Subject: Indonesian troops open fire at Timor border

Indonesian troops open fire at Timor border

By Joanne Collins

BATUGADE, East Timor, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Indonesian troops opened fire at the sensitive Timor border on Saturday as a reunion of families split by the conflict threatened to degenerate into serious violence, witnesses said.

Around 200 rounds of automatic fire were let off by Indonesian soldiers, shooting into the air near the main border crossing a short distance from the town of Batugade. A local commander of the multinational force INTERFET, sent into East Timor last year, said the United Nations would carry out an investigation.

In a few days a U.N. peacekeeping force will formally assume control of security in devastated East Timor.

``It would appear a large volley of shots were fired by TNI (Indonesian military) as warning shots,'' Lt Col Simon Gould, commander of the contingent manning the border, told reporters.

``There is going to be an investigation by the U.N. over the incident.''

Multinational troops in East Timor did not open fire in the incident and said there were no casualties. However, witnesses reported at least one man with a gash to the head.

An Indonesian policeman was killed in October in an exchange of fire near the same spot.

Gould insisted there were sufficient U.N. security forces, including troops, unarmed civilian police and military observers on the East Timor side. However, one military observer said the presence was woefully inadequate.

Around 15,000 people had gathered at the site on Saturday for a U.N.-sponsored event to bring refugees in West Timor together with their relatives in East Timor. The month-old reunions are credited with vastly increasing the number of returning refugees.

More than 100,000 refugees in West Timor have been given a March 31 deadline by Jakarta to decide whether to remain in Indonesia or return to their devastated homeland, now being administered by the U.N.

Visitors to the camps in West Timor say the refugees are still subject to harassment and have limited access to information about the situation in East Timor.

Witnesses said the trouble started when East Timorese and suspected anti-independence militiamen across the border began taunting one another. There was also a report that an alleged militiaman crossed into East Timor and tried to hit someone.

Rocks began being thrown and then the shooting continued for about two to three minutes, witnesses said, as refugees scrambled into the sea or ran back into West Timor for safety. Some witnesses saw it as an attempt to sabotage the U.N.-backed reunion days.

``I think this was a result of provocation by the militia,'' said Rafael Robillard, head of the International Organisation of Migration in West Timor.

Hundreds were killed and most of East Timor left in ruins last September in a wave of violence after the territory voted for independence from Indonesia. Anti-independence militia and their military backers are accused of masterminding the violence.


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