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Subject: AFP: Red Cross visits Alas
Date: Mon, 23 Nov 1998 19:55:50 +0900
From: The AustralAsian <ausasia@ozemail.com.au>

Red Cross visits East Timor's Alas region amid massacre rumours

JAKARTA, Nov 23 (AFP) - An International Committee of the Red Crossdelegation was on its way Monday to the Alas region of troubled East Timor amid persistent rumors of a civilian massacre there, the ICRC said.

The trip will mark the second time in a week that an ICRC team has visited the isolated area, where unconfirmed reports say several dozen and possibly hundreds of civilians were massacred during an Indonesian army operation.

During the first visit, which ended last Thursday, the ICRC was unable to prove the atrocity rumors which had started circulating at the end of the previous week, said Toni Pfanner, head of delegation of the ICRC in Jakarta and regional delegate for Southeast Asia.

The rumors, supported by a letter from Dili Bishop Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo, caused a suspension in UN-held meetings on the future of the former Portuguese colony between Jakarta and Lisbon now under way in New York.

A new meeting has, however, been announced for Tuesday in the presence of the UN secretary general's special representative for East Timor, Jamsheed Marker.

The meeting will decide on an eventual resumption of negotiations once the situation in the Alas region, in the south of East Timor, has been clarified.

The Indonesian army announced last week that it had ended an operation launched in the Alas area, some 200 kilometers (124 miles) south of the territory's capital Dili, after an attack on a police post by rebels.

The attack cost the lives of three East Timorese soldiers fighting on the Indonesian side, and the resistance fighters took 13 other government troops prisoner, of whom 11 were soon freed and two kept in captivity.

Pfanner confirmed that the ICRC had offered its services to help secure their release.

He also confirmed that following the attack on the police post more than 140 people, mostly women and children, had taken refuge in a neighbourhood church.

"We reminded the authorities that it was their duty to make sure these people were fed, and they did so," he added, stressing that the previous ICRC mission had seen the group alive and well in the church before it left Alas last Thursday.

Pfanner said the second team would also visit the neighbouring district of Taitudac, about four kilometers (2.4 miles) to the west of Alas, where massacre rumors are also circulating.

The AustralAsian For News, Views and Comments on the Asia-Pacific Visit http://www.theaustralasian.com

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