Subject: Age: Indonesia arrests 23 militia members

Tha Age Tuesday 10 July 2001

Indonesia arrests 23 militia members


Indonesian security forces have arrested 23 hardcore militiamen including the notorious leader of the gang involved in the 1999 massacre in East Timor's Suai cathedral.

Diplomatic sources told The Age that the arrests occurred between Thursday and Sunday in the West Timor border town of Atambua after rioting by Laksaur militia members. The 23 militiamen, including gang leader Igidio Mnanek, are members of the Laksaur gang.

In a blunt warning that more action might follow, the Indonesian army commander in charge of West Timor, Major-General Willem da Costa, was quoted on Monday as saying: "We will no longer tolerate delinquent refugees (militias)."

Authority for the crackdown by the Indonesian Army could have come only from a senior command level.

There are many reasons for the arrests but rising crime in West Timor attributed to militia gangs is believed to be a significant factor. A desire to restore severed relations with the United Nations is also a strong possibility.

The United Nations Security Council has called on Indonesia to demobilise and disarm the militia gangs while Jakarta is keen to have better relations with East Timor. Improved security in West Timor could result in the return of UN staff evacuated last September after the murder of three UN staff following militia-led riots in Atambua.

Mr Mnanek was cited as a ringleader behind the riots. He is sought by UN prosecutors for his role in the Suai cathedral attack that killed 200.

Yesterday, Indonesian police flew to the south-west town of Suai to gather evidence about the killing last year of New Zealand peacekeeper Leonard Manning, who was shot dead in a militia ambush.

The UN Transitional Administration in East Timor has identified Private Manning's alleged killer and asked for his extradition.

The arrests of the 23 militiamen coincide with a rise in fears for the safety of 1250 East Timorese refugees who have not been seen or heard of since requesting repatriation home in an Indonesian Government census in West Timor last month.

The number of refugees who opted for repatriation was likely to be more than 3700, if children under the age of 17 were included, said Bernard Kerblatt, chief of operations for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in East Timor.

Yesterday Mr Kerblatt expressed fear that the refugees may be facing violence or intimidation by anti-independence militias controlling the camps. He called on Indonesian authorities to guarantee the safety of all East Timorese refugees who requested repatriation during the June 6 census.

Reports of infighting among militia clans across East Timor is causing concern about the safety of tens of thousands of refugees under their control.

Reconciliation talks involving independence leader Xanana Gusmao have also raised fears that refugees will be used as pawns in negotiations with militia leaders facing arrest for 1999 war crimes in East Timor. [This message was distributed via the east-timor news list.]

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