Subject: IO/Reuters - Six dead, thousands flee East Timor violence
Date: Thu, 28 Jan 1999 09:04:15 -0000
From: "Paula Pinto" <paularoque@mail.telepac.pt>

Indonesian Observer 28th January 1999 Nation Six dead, thousands flee East Timor violence

JAKARTA — Thousands of terrified East Timorese have fled their villages after at least six people died in fresh bloodshed in the troubled territory in the past three days, human rights and aid sources said yesterday.

Tensions are high in the troubled former Portuguese colony where the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) estimates more than 50 people have died in scores of clashes in the past six months.

More than 2,700 refugees are camped out in the village of Suai, 90 kilometers southeast of the capital, Dili, after fleeing violence between groups of pro and anti-Indonesian Timorese, an aid worker said.

"The military just do not do anything to stop the incidents," he said, adding that at least six people were killed in Kovalima district in the past three days. Suai is the district capital.

Florentino Sarmento, who heads Komnas HAM’s Dili office, said armed clashes were happening daily around the impoverished territory of 800,000 people.

"My estimation says more than 50 people have been killed in the past six months in armed clashes involving rival groups," he told Reuters by telephone from Dili. "The situation is getting worse because security officers only watch and do nothing. Clashes happen daily almost in all place."

Sarmento said military elements were involved in the unrest. "The problem is the Armed Forces distributed rifles to groups of their favorites," he said. He would not elaborate.

Dili Bishop Carlos Belo said he had complained to senior military officials about the current problems, including armed clashes between civilians.

But military officials in Dili said there was no trouble. "The situation is under control here," said one military official. "I haven’t heard any reports of clashes involving civilians. Don’t believe in rumors."

Pro-independence groups have had their hopes raised by Indonesia’s offer of special autonomy in talks with Portugal over the territory’s future, and by news that Jakarta was considering releasing jailed rebel leader Xanana Gusmao into "house arrest".

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, sponsoring the Lisbon-Jakarta talks, has raised the prospect of house arrest with Indonesia and said on Tuesday he hoped Gusmao would be freed.

Gusmao, jailed in 1992 for 20 years for leading East Timorese rebels fighting Jakarta’s rule, is a key figure in negotiations over the territory’s future.

Clashes between pro and anti-Indonesian Timorese groups have intensified since the downfall of ex-president Soeharto in May after bloody rioting killed 1,200 people in Jakarta amid the country’s worst political and economic crisis in three decades. Soeharto, backed by the military, ruled the world’s fourth most populous nation with an iron fist for 32 years, and brutally put down any rebellions in the vast archipelago. — Reuters

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