Subject: E Timorese Resistance and Their People Come Out of the Hills

The Guardian [UK] Wednesday September 29, 1999

Christopher Zinn in Dili

The guerrillas of the East Timorese resistance and their people came out of the hills yesterday in a ragtag convoy of jeeps and trucks after British peacekeepers promised to provide food, medicine and safety.

In berets and tattered camouflage, senior officers of Falintil, the military wing of the East Timorese independence movement, which is likely to form the core of the new government, joined hundreds of refugees to be welcomed by Gurkhas and Royal Marines.

It was the first time Falintil and the National Council for Timorese Resistance (CNRT) had felt Dili was safe enough to sanction the return of the first of an estimated 150,000 internally displaced people to start rebuilding their homes.

The commander of the British contingent, Brigadier David Richards, made the arrangements for the meeting with the guerrilla force, which has spent 24 years fighting the Indonesian occupation. He described the meeting at Dare, in the mountains behind Dili, as a red letter day for East Timor.

Jose Gulucha, a senior Falintil officer, thanked the brigadier. And although one soldier was trained at Sandhurst and the other in the harsh interior of East Timor, there was obvious mutual professional respect.

"It's straight talking, soldier to soldier," Brig Richards said. "They are recognisably disciplined. They obviously have a good grip over their people, and a good relationship with the CNRT. It's been a pleasure doing business with them."

Mr Gulucha said he feared that the Indonesian army had not fully withdrawn from Dili and that some soldiers remained in plain clothes, making it unsafe for the guerrilla leaders to return and open an office.

The brigadier agreed, and gave him an armed escort into town for the talks. Hundreds of other refugees climbed onto trucks while the women and children crowded into UN jeeps - in one case 20 in one vehicle - for the precipitous six-mile road to Dili. They were either taken home or dropped at the refugee safe haven at the sports stadium. One British officer who doubled as a taxi driver for the operation said he had been moved to tears by the plight of the people.

Most had spent the past three weeks living rough in the bush after the militias began a reign of terror in response to the referendum which returned an overwhelming vote for independence. Many returned to find only the empty, burnt-out ruins of their corrugated-iron homes.

"One bloke said his house was burnt. But he said it was better than living out here. So he intended to go back home and start rebuilding before the rains come," Brig Richards said.

Among those returning was Juvencio de Jesus Martins, 37, a former civil servant in the finance department, who survived the Dili massacre in 1991 before serving seven years in jail for his involvement in the clandestine CNRT.

He carried the sum total of his possessions in a few tatty plastic bags - but he was returning with all the 12 members of his family who fled with him, and gave a huge smile at the sight of the British peacekeepers.

"Our house was burnt out by the militia and we have lost everything," he said. "Now we have to start our lives again. It's going to be very hard and we'll need international support. But we have got one thing of most great value - our independence. We have to see all the destruction and suffering as the price we have to pay for our freedom."

Another at the dusty evacuation site was the imposing figure of Leandro Issac of the CNRT, tipped as a possible future leader of the fledgling state.

He said the apparent murder of a priest, nuns and students at the weekend showed that renegade elements of the militia and the Indonesian army (TNI) were still highly dangerous.

In the past week the number of TNI soldiers in the province has fallen from 15,000 to 1,500 as the multinational force assumes control.

But Mr Issac said: "I don't trust the TNI, even if only one person remains here, because many Timorese have paid with their own lives. As long as the soldiers are still here there is a question mark about stability."

UN arrests Jakarta soldiers

Christopher Zinn in Dili

Australian troops looking for armed militiamen in Dili said yesterday that they had captured around 10 suspected members of Indonesia's feared Kopassus special forces. Some were carrying Kopassus identity cards.

Many others were believed to be still active in East Timor, Australian officers serving in the International Force for East Timor (Interfet) said.

The men were captured in the past week in Interfet sweeping operations to find pro-Jakarta militias.

They will be kept in detention before being offered back to the Indonesian army.

In another series of security sweeps, helicopters landed in the town of Com, where two nuns and seven other people on a mercy mission for refugees were ambushed and killed on Saturday. Their bodies were found in a river.

Fifteen men were detained at dusk on Monday in the most successful raid since the Australian-led peacekeeping force arrived eight days ago.

Interfet has used its fleet of Blackhawk helicopters to swoop down on several towns in the hope of throwing the militias off guard.

It has bolstered the courage of tens of thousands of people who fled when the militias went on a rampage of killing and pillaging.

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