Subject: SMH: UN force prepares for surge in militia attacks

Sydney Morning Herald Saturday, August 12, 2000

UN force prepares for surge in militia attacks

By MARK DODD, Herald Correspondent in Dili, and agencies

Faced with two battle fatalities in two weeks, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in East Timor is braced for an increase in militia violence linked to a concerted campaign by diehard pro-Indonesia extremists to wreck the fledgling nation's fragile peace.

UN military officers fear two significant dates this month - Indonesia's independence day and the anniversary of East Timor's vote for independence from Jakarta - could trigger an increase in militia violence.

The Australian deputy commander of UN peacekeepers, Major-General Mike Smith, said unspecified measures were in place to deal with threats to security.

But he warned it was impossible to seal the border with Indonesian West Timor, where the militias are based, and that infiltrators already "might be lying low to hit some predesignated targets on certain dates".

Of special concern was a huge leap in the level of military skill displayed by the paramilitaries.

In the latest violence a Nepalese soldier died after being shot in the chest when his patrol was attacked by militia on Thursday afternoon near the coastal hamlet of Beco, near Suai, about 30 kilometres from the border. Three other Nepalese troops and a civilian bystander were injured.

Private Devi Ram Jaishi, 25, was the second UN peacekeeper to die in fighting in East Timor. A New Zealander was killed on July 24.

Jakarta has failed to act on promises to disarm the militias, and humanitarian efforts to secure the return of more than 100,000 East Timorese refugees in West Timor have halted because of violence and intimidation against aid workers.

Indonesia's Foreign Minister, Mr Alwi Shihab, said yesterday that Jakarta would close the camps to halt the militia attacks.

Speaking in Singapore, he said Indonesia was preparing a plan to close the camps and would call on international agencies to help set up a registry for the repatriation of people wanting to return to East Timor.

"We will do our utmost to get the registration done; no more militias to detract the plan," he said, expressing deep concern over the latest death.

"By closing down the camp, the source of all those problems - killing, tension - could be abated."

General Smith said the latest activity showed the militia were far better trained and equipped than last September, when international forces moved into East Timor.

The attack at Beco was not the first time militia had penetrated deep inside East Timor.

"The infiltration is not the alarming issue, because with a porous border it will always be possible for a small force to infiltrate," he said.

The real issue was the number of incidents occurring.

"That is what is different to what had been happening earlier in the year, and that is why we are giving it our utmost attention."

UN military commanders said militia tactics had shifted from attempted assassinations of pro-independence leaders to creating a climate of fear and instability among the local population.

Killing peacekeepers could also shake the UN's resolve to stay, and attacks inside East Timor strengthened the militia's hold over a cowed population of refugees, their support base in West Timor.

Brigadier Duncan Lewis, the UN commander with the task of maintaining security along the 172-kilometre border, said militia strength was estimated at 75 to 130 highly trained extremists overseeing about 1,000 armed cadres with varying levels of military skill and motivation.

Several senior UN military officials believe rogue elements of the Indonesian special forces, Kopassus, are involved and were probably linked to the death last month of the New Zealander, Private Leonard Manning.

Yesterday the head of the UN mission in East Timor, Mr Sergio Vieira de Mello, and his Thai military commander, Lieutenant-General Boonsran Niumpradit, flew to Suai to assess the security situation.

"Obviously I'm concerned that the frequency and intensity of these clashes with militia groups is increasing," Mr Vieira de Mello said. "They are worrying signs, but we can contain it, I am sure."

General Smith said the 1,500-strong border security force, reinforced last Sunday with the arrival of four night-capable Australian Black Hawk helicopters, remained on extreme vigilance.

"We have developed contingency plans should the situation deteriorate. As you know, we have a lot of anniversaries coming up this month and into early September."

Next Thursday is Indonesia's national day and August 30 will be the first anniversary of East Timor's vote for independence.

General Smith said: "This is not a time for alarm; it's a time for prudent caution and a time to continue our robust operations."


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