Subject: CNN/Reuters - Violence sweeps East Timor as independence drive gains momentum
Date: Sun, 31 Jan 1999 13:22:10 -0000
From: "Paula" <paularoque@mail.telepac.pt>

Violence sweeps East Timor as independence drive gains momentum Indonesia is promoting autonomy for East Timor

January 29, 1999 Web posted at: 3:27 a.m. EST (0827 GMT)

JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- Bloody fighting in East Timor has forced thousands to flee their homes and threatens to plunge the Indonesian region into full-scale civil conflict as the territory struggles to cope with a new plan for independence.

Aid workers and locals on the island reported Friday that divisions among independence activists and pro-Indonesia Timorese were at the heart of the violence.

At least six people have been killed in the fighting since Wednesday when Jakarta bowed to world pressure and reversed its 23-year stand against granting independence to East Timor.

"I've heard reports that 4,000 people sought refuge at the church in Suai to escape the killings," one source said from the island capital of Dili.

Indonesia's official Human Rights Commission estimates at least 50 people have died in six months in fighting between rival Timorese factions. East Timorese have spent years fighting against Indonesian rule

Pro-Jakarta Timorese say they will fight to protect themselves if Indonesia walks away from its military-enforced rule on the eastern half of Timor island.

"If East Timor decides to be independent, then we are ready ... we are ready to fight," said Basilio Dias Araujo, a pro-Indonesia activist working in the governor's office.

"We just don't want to die."

Araujo said pro-Indonesia groups were armed, but added they were part of the militia trained by the Indonesian military.

Independence fighters have long-accused Jakarta of using the militias to spark violence so leaders could point to it as what would happen if independence was granted.

Araujo said Dili was calm, but "everyone is just confused."

Independence groups have handed out leaflets in the capital urging Indonesians who have migrated from other parts of the country to remain calm. Countdown to freedom It remains unclear how Indonesia will determine what kind of political future the 800,000 East Timorese want

Foreign Minister Ali Alatas said on Wednesday the government may ask the nation's top legislative body, the People's Consultative Assembly, to consider letting East Timor go after the June 7 election if Indonesia's offer of special autonomy is rejected.

But the government, which is formed in the lower house (DPR), could well change after the polls, the predominantly Muslim nation's first taste of democracy in more than four decades.

Indonesia, which already ruled west Timor, invaded the predominantly Catholic eastern half of Timor island in 1975 after the Portuguese suddenly withdrew and civil war broke out.

Jakarta annexed the territory the following year, a move not recognized by the United Nations.

East Timorese are divided over the future of their restive homeland. While analysts believe a majority favor independence, there is still a substantial and powerful group who want to remain part of Indonesia. East Timor background

The Portuguese arrived in Timor in the 16th century and the Dutch seized the west end of the island in the 17th century. The island was eventually carved into the Dutch West Timor and the Portuguese East Timor. The Dutch transferred their territory to Indonesia in 1949. When Portugal gave up East Timor in 1975, Indonesian troops invaded and annexed it as Indonesia's 27th province a year later, despite international condemnation. A Timorese resistance movement has been actively fighting Indonesian troops since the invasion.

For many years, Indonesia has operated a migration program offering financial incentives for people from elsewhere in Indonesia to settle in East Timor. The policy was aimed at establishing a strong support base.

Indonesia's Economics Minister Ginandjar Kartasasmita said in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday that independence for East Timor could come as early as next year if the parliament in Jakarta approved.

Ginandjar said the government would recommend independence for East Timor to parliament, saying this was part of the drive for democracy in the post-Suharto era.

East Timor Bishop Carlos Belo told Portuguese radio independence should be gradual to allow healing between the rival factions.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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