|Subject: RT: Armed militias sow fear in East Timor
Date: Fri, 12 Mar 1999 18:37:31 -0500
From: "John M. Miller" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Received from Joyo:
Thursday March 11, 1999
Feature-Armed militias sow fear in East Timor
By Andrew Marshall
MAUBARA, East Timor, March 12 (Reuters) - A pro-Indonesia militia controls this town. Men armed with rifles, spearguns and knives patrol the streets.
Maubara has been torn apart. Thousands have fled in fear for their lives. But the men accused of causing the trouble say it is not their fault.
``People who say we spread terror, that we have driven people out, are lying,'' said Manuel Sousa, commander of the Besi Merah Putih (Red and White Iron) militia, which has taken its name from the colours of the Indonesian flag.
``It is the pro-independence forces who are doing this. The reason Besi Merah Putih must exist is to stop their intimidation, to defend ourselves.''
The prospect of independence has left a bitter gulf between East Timorese who want to stay part of Indonesia and those demanding freedom.
In Maubara, on Timor's north coast some 45 km (30 miles) west of the capital Dili, the result has been violence, intimidation and deepening poverty. Besi Merah Putih has taken over the town.
SCARED OF DYING
In the nearby town of Liquica thousands of people from Maubara have a different view of Besi Merah Putih. They are staying in dozens of houses, school buildings and offices after fleeing their town. Food is short.
``I left because of the intimidation, the terror,'' said stall owner Costoalo Dos Santos, 27. Asked who drove him out, he said: ``Besi Merah Putih.''
A nun in a centre providing food says more than 2,000 people have come.
``They believe if they return, they will die,'' said Sister Pascalia.
Back in Maubara, Sousa's command post is a thatched wooden building. Sitting inside, surrounded by members of his rag-tag army, Sousa said his militia set up its base there last month after constant threats from pro-independence guerrillas.
The red and white flag of Indonesia, which invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975, flies over his headquarters. Some 200,000 East Timorese -- over a quarter of the population -- died through war, starvation and disease as a result of the invasion.
``The people here do not want independence. They want to live in peace and be free from fear,'' Sousa said.
A WAR TO COME?
Dozens of armed pro-Indonesia militias have gone on the offensive in recent months, stung by Indonesia's announcement in January that it may give the former Portuguese colony independence if an offer of autonomy is rejected.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced on Thursday that Indonesia and Portugal had agreed on a ``direct'' ballot for the people of East Timor to decide whether they wanted autonomy or independence, although specific details had yet to be agreed.
Also on Thursday, jailed East Timor guerrilla leader Xanana Gusmao and the commander of pro-Indonesia militias in the territory said they had agreed to discuss its future peacefully.
``This is the first meeting and we have committed to peace,'' Gusmao said at a joint news conference with Joao Da Silva Tavares, after an hour and a half of discussions.
But despite the talk, many people fear outright civil war may be just around the corner.
Many of Sousa's militiamen look more confused and afraid than dangerous. He says there are 800 in total.
Amnesty International has said armed militias were behind recent human rights abuses in East Timor. Resistance leaders have accused Indonesia of arming and encouraging the groups to spread fear and instability.
Sousa denies he has received any help from Indonesia or its armed forces, known as ABRI.
``We have got nothing from ABRI, nothing from the authorities. We have done this ourselves.''
And those who have fled should return, he says.
``They have no reason to be afraid.''