Subject: Jolliffe: More Australian soldiers not needed: Gusmao

Jan 22, 2003 23:46 PST More Australian soldiers not needed: Gusmao

January 23 2003 By Jill Jolliffe Dili

President Xanana Gusmao has denied a report that East Timor is seeking increased Australian military involvement in the territory to curb militia infiltrations from West Timor.

"We have been very happy with the performance of the peacekeepers," he said. "We don't need more Australian soldiers. They are needed for the war in Iraq; it's more important."

Mr Gusmao also denied claims, attributed to an unnamed East Timor official, that Indonesia's elite Kopassus unit had sent in Timorese militiamen believed responsible for attacks in the Atsabe district. "The Indonesian Government has its own problems and doesn't have anything to do with this," he said. "These people are Timorese ex-militias who came from West Timor and are using local bandit groups. They might say they are sent by Indonesian generals but that has to be proved."

Eight men are being held in Dili on charges of disturbing security, illegal border crossing and transporting arms. According to defence lawyer Cancio Xavier, they surrendered peacefully to villagers in their home district of Bazartete a week ago.

"They said they had instructions by Indonesian army officers in Atambua (West Timor) to wage guerrilla war," he said. "But they changed their minds after crossing the border and decided to surrender."

A hunt is under way for other armed groups believed to have crossed the border last month. Seven people died in raids on Atsabe, 25 kilometres from the Indonesian border, on January 2 and 4. SKF automatic rifles, which are standard issue for the Indonesian army, were used in the attacks and were also carried by the Bazartete infiltrators.

After a meeting with the President, UN administrator Kamalesh Sharma also played down the situation. Asked whether East Timor was facing a major security crisis, he said: "There have been disturbances in some areas, and we hope that we can build up capacity to deal with it."

Mr Gusmao said the security situation was of great concern. "We know there are six or seven armed groups at large, and that those responsible for the Atsabe attacks fled south. If we don't disarm them we'll have further problems."

He said the planned withdrawal of UN peacekeeping forces in June next year would increase these worries.

The former guerrilla commander criticised human rights groups that have condemned the use of the Timorese defence force in special operations in Atsabe. He said although Timorese soldiers should only be used to counter external threats, the current situation was exceptional and covered by a UN agreement. "Two NGOs (non-governmental organisations) have spoken of human rights problems yet armed elements are attacking our population," he said. "They don't speak of this."

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