Subject: Washington Post: Indon Militias Target U.N. Forces in E. Timor

Washington Post Saturday, August 12, 2000

Indonesian Militias Target U.N. Forces in E. Timor

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran Washington Post Foreign Service

JAKARTA, Indonesia, Aug. 11 –– Militia groups with ties to the Indonesian military have sneaked into East Timor and are carrying out bold attacks on U.N. peacekeepers in the newly independent nation, U.N. officials and Western diplomats said today.

The assaults have resulted in the deaths of two peacekeepers in the past three weeks and have escalated tensions along the rugged, 100-mile border separating U.N.-controlled East Timor from western Timor, the part of the island that remains under Indonesian control.

The violence also has complicated efforts to send home more than 100,000 East Timorese refugees from squalid camps in western Timor and raises the prospect that an international security force will have to remain in East Timor for longer than planned to control the militias, which oppose the territory's independence from Indonesia.

U.N. officials say the upsurge in militia activity is the likely result of several factors, among them the impending first anniversary of East Timor's independence on Aug. 30. Others include a planned meeting of East Timorese leaders next week, and statements by the Indonesian government that it plans to close refugee camps that the militia groups use as bases. Some officials also believe the militias have acted because political turmoil in Jakarta and sectarian violence in the Molucca Islands divert the attention of government and military leaders.

The recent attacks are the most confrontational and dangerous encounters the peacekeepers have had with the militias since international troops arrived last September. Militia activity has surged before, most notably this spring, when U.N. officials recorded 16 border incursions by militiamen. But none of the previous engagements involved as many exchanges of gunfire or peacekeeper fatalities.

In the most recent incident, a Nepalese peacekeeper died from wounds sustained in a gun battle Thursday evening with militiamen near the town of Suai in the southwestern part of East Timor. Three other peacekeepers and a civilian were injured in the fighting. In late July, a peacekeeper from New Zealand was fatally shot in the head during a clash with a militia group. And last weekend, Australian troops exchanged fire with militiamen in two separate incidents along the border.

U.N. officials believe four to five bands of well-armed militiamen, totaling about 75 people, have infiltrated East Timor in recent weeks to threaten civilians and attack peacekeepers. Many have been spotted wearing Indonesian military fatigues and carrying the same type of automatic rifles issued to Indonesian soldiers, the officials said.

In addition, the officials said, several hundred militia members are operating just across the border with the concurrence of Indonesian military officials in the area.

U.N. officials and Western diplomats monitoring the situation say the militiamen are discharged Indonesian soldiers and civilians who have received military training. After the New Zealand soldier was shot, for instance, peacekeepers found a host of Indonesian military equipment in the area, including camouflage fatigues, a shirt bearing a special forces patch, a photocopied map of the border and a jungle knife.

"It's very clear that the relationships that existed for decades between the [Indonesian military] and the militias are still there," said a senior Western diplomat. "This is not ordinary militia activity. These incursions are extremely well planned and they are run by people who have sophisticated weapons."

The Indonesian government has maintained its military is not assisting the militias, but officials have acknowledged that decommissioned soldiers may be involved in the groups. Indonesian officials also insisted they do not have the resources to increase border patrols to prevent militiamen from entering East Timor.

Many of the militia groups freely operate out of refugee camps in western Timor that were set up last September to accommodate 250,000 East Timorese who fled across the border to escape militia violence in the wake of the territory's overwhelming vote for independence. The United Nations and numerous foreign governments have criticized Indonesia for failing to arrest militia leaders, who also have been intimidating the approximately 100,000 refugees still in western Timor from returning home.

Increasing militia violence near the western Timor city of Kupang recently forced the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees office there to scale back relief work in refugee camps and the repatriation of camp residents. "The security guarantees we've requested from the Indonesian government have still not been met," said Andrew Harper, a program coordinator with the U.N. refugee office in Kupang.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and the Security Council both called on Indonesia today to halt the infiltration and disarm the militias, the Reuters news agency reported from U.N. headquarters in New York.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab said that his government is committed to closing the refugee camps, but he did not specify when. Indonesian officials have repeatedly promised to close the camps, an action supported by the United Nations, which believes it would hasten the return of refugees.

"By closing down the camps, the source of all those problems . . . could be abated," Shihab said. He said Indonesia is formulating plans to close them and will request U.N. help with the repatriation.

The U.N. peacekeeping force in East Timor comprises about 8,000 troops from more than 30 nations.


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