|Subject: AFP - 1,000 E. Timor militiamen
begin training under Indon army
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1,000 East Timor militiamen begin training under Indonesian army
JAKARTA, Feb 8 (AFP) - One thousand members of a new civilian militia in East Timor were Monday begining two weeks of training by the Indonesian military amid rising tension between independence supporters and opponents, a report said.
East Timor military chief Colonel Tono Suratman was quoted by the Jakarta Post as saying the People's Fighting force (Wanra) would start training but did say where.
Suratman, speaking in the territory's capital Dili, said recruits would be given a one-year contract and a monthly salary of 200,000 rupiah (24 dollars.)
The recruitment went ahead despite calls for the disbanding of armed civilian groups in East Timor. Objectors include Nobel laureate Bishop Carlos Ximenes Felipe Belo and jailed East Timorese rebel leader Xanana Gusmao.
Both have accused civilian groups, which they say are armed by the Indonesian military, of heightening tension in the former Portuguese colony.
They have accused the groups of terrorising the population in southern East Timor where at least six people have been killed in recent weeks and thousands have been forced to seek refuge in churches.
Suratman said the Wanra would be armed only with batons.
"It is not true that the militia is being readied to fight anti-integration groups. We are arming them with batons to help us keep East Timor secure, not to fight," he was quoted by the Jakarta Post as saying.
Suratman was not available for comment on Monday.
The Jakarta Post said around 2,900 pro-Indonesian residents of six villages in the Maubara area west of Dili have begun to arm themselves with traditional weapons in anticipation of attacks by pro-independence East Timorese groups.
"We are ready to die under the red-and-white (the Indonesian flag). Once integrated (with Indonesia), we will remain integrated," the Jakarta Post quoted one of the villagers in Maubara as saying.
Tension between pro- and anti-independence groups has risen following Jakarta's surprise announcement last month that it was prepared to envisage a free East Timor if its proposal for wide autonomy was rejected by the people there.
Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 and annexed the former Portuguese colony the following year in a move never recognised by the United Nations and most countries.
The Indonesian and Portuguese foreign ministers held talks on East Timor at the United Nations Sunday and agreed that its people should be consulted on their future in a UN ballot.
Both Portuguese Foreign Minister Jaime Gama and Indonesian counterpart Ali Alatas spoke of "progress" as they emerged from their first talks focusing directly on the final status of the territory.