Subject: East Timor killer held in mountains tells of murder plans
Date: Sat, 25 Sep 1999 10:52:29 -0400

Irish Times [Dublin] Wednesday, September 22, 1999

Killer held in mountains tells of murder plans

Conor O'Clery reports from Dili on a journey into the mountains to find refugees

In the centre of a road outside Dili, a skull and cross bones and the words "zona TNI", on an oil drum warn people approaching from the south that they are leaving the safety of the mountains. Beyond that sign, they know that soldiers of the Indonesian military (TNI) are still lounging with guns outside their roadside billets in the vast wasteland of burned out houses which was the Dili suburb of Becora, playing pop music and eyeing passers-by.

The refugees in the mountains fear the TNI almost as much as they do the pro-Jakarta militias which rampaged through Becora, killing 50 people, according to locals, after East Timor voted for independence on August 30th.

"Two days ago the militia left, they are afraid," said a student in Becora, Acasio Da Costa (25). But the militias have not disappeared from here, despite melting away from most of Dili and last night there was concentrated gunfire around the Catholic church.

The Australian-led UN force which began deploying on Monday has yet to penetrate to this part of Dili and until it does the pro-independence people will stay in the mountains.

Accompanied by a pro-Falintil (resistance army) guide armed with a machete, I came across hundreds of them sheltering in little mountain valleys and in groves of banana trees mostly afraid to come down until told it was safe. In a hut made from saplings and banana leaves, a two-hour trek from Becora over arid mountain slopes, Aliza Alvez was weeping uncontrollably. A mother of four, she told me she had ventured to Becora yesterday morning and found her home burned and husband missing. Further up the mountain there were large concentrations of displaced people, mostly women and shy children who smiled for a stranger despite their hunger. They showed me the scarcely edible tubular roots they dug up to eat. They had water, carried up from the river in jars, but no medicine. Three children and two adults died here in the last week from starvation and disease.

The people here, some armed with crude guns, captured a member of the Aitarak militia, Eusebio Soarez, whose arms were tied to bamboo splits.

He had confessed to killing 20 people, he said, and had told his captors of a meeting on August 9th in the Dili parliament building when it was decided to kill pro independence people after the August 30th referendum. Those at the meeting, he said, included Eurico Guterres, head of Aitarak, and Basilio Araujo, the political leader of the Pro Integration Movement.

Januario Fretas, an organiser of CNRT, the National Council for Timorese Resistance, showed me another list - that of some 1,165 people who had taken refuge in this small area of mountain. Evidently a respected leader, he wore a small beard and a beret with a badge showing the face of Xanana Gusmao.

"They won't come down until CNRT says it is clear," he said. Raul Priao stopped me in some distress and asked me to write the names of his wife Casalfina, his two- month-old daughter, Rosalinda, and sister, Natalina. When he hid in the hills they had been forced by the militia onto trucks bound for Atabua on the West Timor border.

As we approached Becora on the way back, my guide, Francisco Varela, anxiously enquired of refugees toiling up the rocky paths if the militia were active below. They said it was ok but it was here the gunfire erupted at night.

At the oil drum with the skull and cross-bones, he left me and I got a lift into town in a tiny minivan packed with 21 women and children who sang a song for me about the heroes of Falintil. Most of Dili has yet to see the peacekeepers, though last night Australian soldiers were patrolling Dili's seafront, guns at the ready like troops in Northern Ireland. Just over 1,000 of the initial deployment of 2,500 have arrived since dawn on Monday.

"Where we stand, we are having an effect," Maj-Gen Peter Cosgrove, the Australian commander of the International Force (Interfet), told journalists. He was assessing the situation in the city, he said, and "finding out from all sources what is happening there, eventually to establish a presence in those areas to underwrite a return to peaceful conditions". A few armed militia men had been detained and would be handed over to Indonesian police.

Today the UN force would deploy in East Timor's second coastal city, Baucau, he said, adding that it would still be a number of weeks before Interfet had a presence throughout East Timor. "We've had lots of smiles and hand waves," he said. "The population of Dili seems to be growing from what was virtually a ghost town when I came on my reconnaissance the other day." He also said: "We were prepared for a whole range of more unfavourable outcomes and I have to say - so far so good."

A platoon of heavily armed Australians turned the Turismo Hotel into a fortress yesterday to protect international journalists based there.

Two buildings away, at an Indonesian army base, dozens of soldiers spent yesterday packing up their gear in preparation for leaving. They invited passing journalists in for coffee and said that they had not been involved in a fight between militia and pro independence factions, despite widespread reports that they had supplied , armed, paid and controlled the militias.

An Australian soldier aims his assault rifle at an alleged militiaman who was arrested along with four others at the entrance of Dili's Comoro airport yesterday. The five were held after troops found a pistol, machete and other home-made weapons in their car at an airport checkpoint.

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