Subject: Australian patrol captures East Timor militiaman

Australian patrol captures East Timor militiaman

CANBERRA, Aug 7 (Reuters) - An Australian army patrol has shot and captured an armed East Timorese militiaman in one of two gunfights near the border with Indonesian West Timor, defence officials said on Monday.

About 15 Australian U.N. troops clashed with two or three militiamen armed with automatic weapons near the town of Batugade, about a kilometre (half a mile) from the West Timor border, on Sunday afternoon, an Australian Defence department spokesman said.

``The Australian patrol ordered the militiamen to surrender their weapons but the group fired on the patrol,'' the spokesman said in a statement.

``The patrol returned fire, wounding and capturing one militiaman. The remaining members of the group escaped towards the border with West Timor.''

No Australians were hurt, the spokesman said.

The wounded man was treated and evacuated to Dili for questioning.

Australian troops are playing a leading role in the peacekeeping element of a U.N. administration in the former Indonesian territory.

The firefight came five days after an Australian patrol killed two armed East Timorese militia members near the border, where tension has risen in recent weeks with an apparent upsurge in militia activity and border incursions.

In a separate incident, another Australian patrol encountered six or seven armed militiamen near Maliana. The spokesman said there were signs one militiaman had been wounded in shooting.

``Follow-up operations are continuing in the area,'' he said.

Suspected pro-Jakarta militia shot dead a New Zealand soldier near the town of Suai on July 24, the first combat casualty since a U.N.-backed peace enforcement team landed in East Timor last September.

Indonesia has long been under pressure to control the armed gangs who operate across the border in West Timor, where up to 120,000 refugees remain in squalid conditions after fleeing last year's violence when East Timor voted to quit Jakarta rule.

Amid rising tension on the border, international aid agencies last week suspended the repatriation of East Timorese refugees because of death threats against their staff.

East Timor voted overwhelmingly last August for independence from Indonesia after 23 years, prompting a backlash from sections of the Indonesian military, police and pro-Jakarta militias.


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