Subject: Age: Rebels Threaten Timor Peace

The Age [Melbourne]

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Rebels Threaten Timor Peace

By Jill Jolliffe Bobonaro

There is a palpable fear in the town of Bobonaro, which sits on the Timorese side of the border with Indonesia.

It is not apprehension at the possibility of invasion, but rather a brewing conflict between the Timorese authorities and a band of locals set on creating their own field of influence.

The stress has triggered violent police actions against the rebel Committee to Defend the Democratic Republic of East Timor (CPD).

Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri confirmed his commitment to repressing the group this week, saying: "They have been told to stop their activities but this hasn't worked, so they will be captured by the police."

He has pledged to neutralise CPD by March, ordering police to seize identity cards the group has issued in competition with government cards. But the ferment created by the campaign may create the instability the Government seeks to prevent.

CPD is detested by many for its fanatical rejection of the new Government. It is seen as short on ideology and high on nuisance value, preying on jobless former resistance fighters.

But there is no credible evidence the CPD has external backing, despite Government attempts to link it to militia groups in West Timor.

Observers fear repression may drive the dissidents into armed anti-government rebellion. A fortnight ago, Bobonaro police, led by local administrator Ernesto Barreto, raided outlying villages. CPD said its supporters were beaten and that a two-year-old child died in its mother's arms in the village of Masop, the victim of a blow directed at her.

Mr Barreto and Bobonaro police chief Atanasio Barreto have admitted, in separate interviews with The Age, that the child had died. However, they claimed that it died of illness, days after the police raid.

Town priest Cyrus Banque blames police for the fear overhanging Bobonaro. Police had provoked instability by heavy-handedness in dealing with suspects, he said. Father Cyrus said CPD members felt frustrated because ex-fighters were not given recognition.

The group's Bobonaro supporters, about 350 people in two hamlets, meet the priest's description. A request for a guide to walk to Masop was denied.

"If we take you, we'll be beaten up by government supporters," ageing chief Carlos de Jesus said.

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