|Subject: AFP: Militia slowly back off
Date: Sat, 24 Jul 1999 12:22:18 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <email@example.com>
Received from Joyo Indonesian News:
Militia slowly back off
RAIMEA, East Timor, July 24 (AFP) - The men in the black T-shirts have gone now from this isolated UN voter registration post in the former Portuguese island colony of East Timor.
They were there several days ago, men in T-shirts emblazoned with the name Mahidi, a pro-Indonesian militia group, loitering outside when the post opened after a delay caused by militia violence.
"Today is a quiet day," Nicolas Fleury, a district electoral officer from Switzerland, said Thursday outside the small white building where about 50 people sheltered from the sun under a torn canopy.
They were waiting their turn to get on the voters' list for the late August referendum on autonomy with Indonesia or independence for this Indonesian ruled territory.
The Raimea post was one of five in southwest East Timor that were forced to close last weekend because of concerns about militia violence.
A July 15 Mahidi attack on the village of Selasa left four villagers wounded by gunfire, the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) and a well-informed local source said.
The next day, Mahidi burned a house and fired their weapons into the air in the village of Nagidal, the local source said.
Unable to open for the first two days of registration, the Raima post began operations last Sunday, faced with loitering men in Mahidi T-shirts, UNAMET staff said.
"The first day we showed up there was also tension," one worker said. He added that UNAMET staff were never threatened and the men in the Mahidi T-shirts disappeared in a couple of days.
The post had no communication links until several days ago and is now connected by radio to the district headquarters in Suai.
A blue United Nations flag flies at the end of a flimsy stick outside the small building where people register surrounded by green rice fields and grazing cows.
To reach the post some villagers walk for about one kilometer down a straight road of potholed asphalt that is broken in one place by a meter-wide stream.
A bamboo hut at the other end of the road partly explains why the registration center is so far from area residents. The hut is a militia post. When UNAMET first scouted the area, the militiamen were armed with guns, UNAMET said.
Late this week only a sheathed machete was seen hanging from the bamboo, and a man in a Mahidi T-shirt helpfully directed two journalists to the registration center.
A UNAMET worker at another center closed for safety reasons last weekend said the militia had been told "to pull their ... heads in."
In Cassa village, where Mahidi urged a boycott of registration, a United Nations worker said noone showed up to get on the voters' list last Sunday, but things changed after the local militia leader met with UNAMET's police commissioner, Alan Mills.
"The other day we took some of the Polri (Indonesia police) out with us to some of the villages with a loudspeaker and told them to come to registration. The next day we had 180 people," said Bruce Davies, a New Zealand police officer at UNAMET's Cassa Post.
In the area around Raima, word is also spreading.
"The good thing is people from the far villages are coming more and more," Alvaro Jarillo, a district electoral officer from Spain, said.
UNAMET has been asking those who register to urge others to come, he said.
"Before registration we didn't have a lot of time to tell the people," Jarillo said.
After a tense start the post now sees a constant flow of people. "Some of them are waiting the whole day," Fleury said.