Subject: JP: Timorese watch out for militia, thieves

The Jakarta Post March 1, 2001

Opinion

Timorese watch out for militia, thieves

By Ati Nurbaiti

BOBONARO, Maliana, East Timor (JP): In the village of Kailoku in East Timor's Maliana district, children get homework of a different kind.

They carry the blackboards home after school.

"It's to make sure no one steals them," says a resident passing the bare breasted boys balancing the boards on their heads. This was in January, while in Dili the stories of children taking home chairs and tables from classes without doors and windows are recent history.

Security is still a top priority here, as authorities in Indonesia and in East Timor apparently have not yet reached agreement on the delicate issue of the refugees in East Nusa Tenggara, some of them including militias.

Protection is ensured by the international troops, their tanks rumbling back and forth at high speed along a country road, but residents are taking no chances.

The windows of a nearby house belonging to a village head are protected with large coils of barbed wire, insurance against either militia or thieves. Jose Soares had just installed zinc roofing and fixed windows which were then either robbed or shattered in the September violence following Timor's referendum for self determination of Aug. 30, 1999.

Pro Indonesia militia who allegedly went on a burning and killing spree in this district are just across the bordering hills and rivers, and thieves are on the lookout for anything valuable to sell. In Atsabe district, passed on the way to Maliana, electricity has vanished, with the cables stripped to the aluminum core worth Rp 3,000 per kilogram.

Thankfully, says the farmer Soares, the black market in Nunura outside town has been closed. It was widely visited by wholesalers from Dili and other towns seeking cheaper goods coming from the border town of Atambua in Kupang, West Timor, or East Nusa Tenggara.

Anxiety peaked on Dec. 31 when a resident was killed and his wife sustained bullet injuries, allegedly caused by militia in Suco Memo, Maliana. The word was that militia had managed to slip in through the largely guarded border area, but admits Lt. Lang of the civilian and military affairs division of the UN troops, "We can't be everywhere."

The border area has many discreet entry points, such as through dense corn fields, and there are concerns that the black market may open again given the temptation for profits on both sides of the border.

Without the international troops, who Lt. Lang says "enjoy good cooperation" with the Indonesian military, a resident said "this place could be like Israel and Palestine."

If a militia member should return residents say they will hand him over to UN civil police. "But if he resists, well we'd be forced to .." another resident said.

Maliana's capital, Bobonaro, is where people seeking protection at the police station were killed amid the tension surrounding the referendum. Shops and some homes were already burnt down to intimidate would-be voters. Those suspected of being pro independence leaders were hunted down, kidnapped and killed.

Residents only came down from the hills to cast their vote on Aug. 30 in the presence of international peacekeepers at the town hall, after which they fled to safety again.

The homes in even tiny hamlets in Maliana still bear the scars of the rampage, which continued until the International Force for East Timor arrived on Sept. 22 to clean up the mess and bury bodies.

"We watched the town burn from our hiding places in the mountains," a resident said, and this is similar to stories from Dili and Oecussi, East Timor's district in west Timor, East Nusa Tenggara Province. In Oecussi, "not even the pig sties were left standing," a local said.

Timor's western region is said to be the hardest hit in what is dubbed "Black September," in "the struggle" to maintain at least half of Timor in the Republic of Indonesia. This was in line with the wishes of most inhabitants, had it not been for the intimidation of pro independence militia, or the Fretilin, pro integration activists said.

After the international soldiers leave, security matters will be left to a police force, leader Jose Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao has said, as people have had enough of their experience with Indonesian soldiers.

But leaders then "backtracked," said researcher and sociologist George Junus Aditjondro, in view of the prospect of "a hostile neighbor". Preparations began for a professional military, and on Feb. 1, a weeping Xanana was portrayed at the Falintil base in Aileu district when inaugurating the East Timor Armed Forces, which replaced his guerrillas.

Watchful of lessons from Indonesia, the leading Timor Pos warned in a recent editorial that for all their gratitude to heroic independence fighters, people did not want to see a repetition of active and retired soldiers dabbling in business and politics.

The writer is a journalist of The Jakarta Post


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