Subject: Resistance in control of eastern East Timor: commander

Resistance in control of eastern East Timor: commander

WAIMORI, East Timor, Sept 29 (AFP) - Pro-independence guerrillas on Wednesday said they have seized control of most of the eastern part of East Timor after clashes with retreating militia and Indonesian soldiers.

Taur Matan Ruak, the commander of the Falintil resistance on the ground in East Timor, said his fighters had taken control of areas abandoned by the Indonesian military which had yet to be occupied by international peacekeepers.

Speaking from his mountain headquarters, Ruak said guerrillas were still fighting militia and soldiers for control of an area around the southern coastal town of Betanol but he had lost contact with them for two days.

With fighting continuing, Ruak made it clear the guerrillas were highly unlikely to disarm.

"We will see," he said. "We have learned over 24 years that we can never trust the Indonesian military."

A decision to disarm is seen as unlikely before Xanana Gusmao, the exiled leader of the guerrillas and likely leader of an independent East Timor, returns from exile.

Gusmao, who has called for reconciliation with Indonesia, is seen as the only man with the authority to prevent the guerrillas going on a killing spree to avenge the orgy of militia-led violence that followed the territory's August 30 vote for independence.

"Xanana should be here as soon as possible -- we need him," Falintil officer Falur Rate Laek said.

Falintil set up its semi-permanent base in a river valley in the Waimori region, south east of Dili, shortly before the August 30 UN-organised ballot.

Now more than 3,000 refugees are also sheltering there, forced into the mountains by militia violence. Another 10,000 huddle in the surrounding hills.

The guerrillas remained in their mountain camps in the weeks leading up to and after the independence vote.

Now they are cautiously moving back into towns and villages left devastated by departing Indonesian soldiers.

"There's very few of us and it's a very large area but we've sent people to where TNI (Indonesian army) have left to make sure that the population is secure," said Ruak.

Former military roadblocks on the Dili to Baucau road are now manned by Falintil, he said.

The guerrillas have clashed with soldiers or with militiamen retreating west to their bases in West Timor. Fighting had broken out in recent days around the towns of Manatuto and Laleia, on the north coast, and around Alas, Same and Betano, on the south coast, Ruak said.

Falintil soldiers were now patrolling the streets of Manatuto, where 80 percent of buildings were burned down.

"In Betano ... which has been surrounded by militia from September 25 until now, our men were fighting the militia and we lost contact with them two days ago," said Ruak.

Western towns such as Maliana, Bobonaro and Suai remain in the hands of militia and the army.

The Australian-led multinational force is now slowly spreading its influence beyond Dili and Baucau and has made helicopter raids on in Liquica and Com.

But Falintil fighters believe Interfet should have moved faster to prevent atrocities such as the weekend murder of nine people, including two nuns, near Los Palos.

"Interfet should have moved quicker to secure areas outside Dili because we still had massacres happening in the eastern part after they arrived," said Falur Rate Laek.

Falintil said it was co-operating with Interfet. A platoon of Australian soldiers has been based at the Waimori camp for four days to liaise with the guerrillas and provide medical help.

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