Subject: NYT: Foes of E. Timor Independence Run Amok
Date: Fri, 27 Aug 1999 01:31:08 EDT
From: Joyo@aol.com

The New York Times August 27, 1999

Violence Grips East Timor Capital as Foes of Independence Run Amok

By SETH MYDANS

DILI, Indonesia -- Opponents of independence for East Timor ran wild in the streets of this tiny provincial capital Thursday, firing guns, throwing rocks and setting fire to at least two buildings.

A spokesman for the United Nations, which is organizing a referendum on self-rule Monday, said he believed that four people had been killed, either by anti-independence thugs or by panicked policemen, and that many more had been injured.

Black smoke rose from the fires as the thugs, known as militiamen, roared through the city in trucks. Shopkeepers pulled down their shutters, and the streets became empty and silent.

"This can be viewed as a final effort by armed militiamen to destabilize the popular consultation in its final days," said U.N. spokesman David Wimhurst.

The people of East Timor are to vote Monday on whether to become an independent nation or an autonomous region within Indonesia, which invaded the remote territory in 1975 and has battled a separatist insurgency ever since.

Backed by the Indonesian military, the armed militias have sought to intimidate the territory's 800,000 residents or to derail the referendum through violence.

Some of the targets of intimidation Thursday were foreigners here to organize or observe the vote. But Wimhurst said the referendum would proceed as scheduled.

The violence was the worst in the capital since the arrival of U.N. officials in May, but other parts of East Timor have seen more bloodshed in recent months.

Wimhurst said that from 40,000 to 60,000 people had fled their homes outside the capital and were living as refugees.

"There has been an increase in violence in the last week or 10 days," said another U.N. official who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Today was certainly not a day we like, but it may not have been the worst. What was unusual about it was that it happened here in Dili, but there have been worse days elsewhere."

In Washington, the State Department said Thursday that it deplored the outbreak of violence in East Timor and blamed the Indonesian government for failing to crack down on anti-independence militias that have been blamed for most of the recent killings.

"Indonesia has a clear responsibility to provide security and maintain order in East Timor, not only in the coming days but throughout an orderly transition to East Timor's new status," said a spokesman, James Foley.

Thursday began with rallies and motorcades on the final day of pre-election campaigning by more than 10,000 independence opponents. Mostly tough young men, they wound their way through Dili in small trucks or on motorcycles, waving red-and-white Indonesian flags and placards reading "Otonomi" -- advocating autonomy under continued Indonesian rule.

Addressing a rally, one militia leader, Eurico Guterres, threatened to begin a campaign of violence if his side loses the vote. "If East Timor becomes independent, it will become a sea of fire," he said.

Shortly afterward, members of a militia motorcade threw stones and shot at the headquarters of the main pro-independence group. On Wednesday, 10,000 supporters of independence had held their final rally in a festive and peaceful atmosphere.

As one of Thursday's motorcades passed through the eastern edge of town, scores of young men leaped from their trucks and stormed through two villages. They set homes and vehicles on fire, fired their mostly homemade guns and beat some residents.

At one point, militiamen shot in the direction of a group of foreign journalists. A photographer for Reuters was shot in the thigh and a photographer for The Sydney Morning Herald was beaten.

A U.N. official said he was threatened at gunpoint as he drove past a militia checkpoint.

A foreign election monitor, Suzanna Bruz, said her office was fired upon by members of a motorcade.

"We were attacked in our own house, and we are international observers," she said. "They were running in the street and they shot at us, pa-pa-pa-pa, and we were screaming." She said nobody was hurt.

Particularly worrisome, Wimhurst said, was the inability of police to control the violence. Under procedures for the referendum agreed to at the United Nations, the Indonesian police are responsible for security during the campaign and on polling day.

"The police have got to take full account of the situation and face their inability to control these localized outbreaks of violence," he said. "I believe they felt overwhelmed. We will be discussing this situation fully with the police."

Witnesses said police were very slow to arrive when violence flared on the city's eastern edge and that when they did they appeared to panic.

"We saw one man get shot," said a woman, Yenni Wahid. "He was running from the police and they tried to grab him. He got away and they fired warning shots. He kept running. One guy pointed a gun and all the journalists shouted, 'No!' And bang."

Other witnesses said they saw a police officer aim his rifle point-blank at one young man and shoot him in the forehead.

If the territory does vote for independence, the Indonesian police and military forces here will continue to be responsible for security during a transition period of three to six months, a government spokesman said Thursday.

"We don't want to leave a vacuum here," the spokesman, Dino Djalal, said. "There has to be some continuity."

Foreign military experts estimate that Indonesia currently has 8,000 police officers and between 12,000 and 15,000 troops stationed in East Timor.

Back to August Menu
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu