Subject: AFP - Thousands of East Timorese seek refuge in churches
Date: Sat, 30 Jan 1999 12:31:06 -0000
From: "Paula Pinto" <paularoque@mail.telepac.pt>

30 Jan 99 Thousands of East Timorese seek refuge in churches

JAKARTA, Jan 30 (AFP) - As many as 5,100 East Timorese villagers fleeing attacks by Indonesian-armed militia have sought refuge in churches and Catholic schools in the town of Suai, a rights official in the capital of Dili said Saturday.

Six people had been killed and two injured in the latest attacks on villagers in the Kopalima district, Florentino Sarmento, an official of the Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas-Ham) said.

Sarmento confirmed a report by an Australian freelance journalist, who said Friday about 4,500 villagers from the region were now camped out in Suai, on the south coast of the island, after fleeing the paramilitary East Timorese.

"The number of refugees has reached 5,100, some of them are sheltered in a newly-built church... and a Catholic school in Suai," he said, speaking to AFP by phone from Dili.

He said there was no problem with food, and rice was being distributed by the church from a nearby rice storage depot. "But it is really disturbing for the people's own food production."

"It is never-ending attacks and counter-attacks," Sarmento said of clashes between pro-independence groups and paramilitary armed by the Indonesian army.

He charged the Indonesian military with illegally handing out weapons to some pro-Indonesia groups.

Commenting on independent reports the military in Dili had been handing out weapons to pro-integration civilians in the past few days, he said he could understand why pro-integrationists had demanded to be armed.

"Those who support integration have been intimidated and terrorized by pro-independence groups. Their houses and belongings have been burned. So far 30 of them have been killed. So they use the weapons to defend themselves," Sarmento told AFP.

"But some groups have misused the weapons to attack their political opponents, those who support East Timor independence," he added.

Sarmento said Dili was quiet Saturday morning after a shooting incident which left no casualties Friday morning.

Meanwhile a nurse in the Dili state hospital said it had been closed since Tuesday, because the Indonesian hospital staff feared for their lives.

"We want a security guarantee from the authorities here. We don't want to die for nothing," the nurse, who declined to be identified, told AFP by phone.

However the nurse said some paramedics were still treating patients in the hospital, despite the fear of further attacks.

She said the hospital closed Tuesday after two doctors were beaten up in an attack triggered by the death of a child, who, according to the nurse, had suffered a chronic heart disease.

On Friday the United Nations and Portugal appealed for an end to violence in East Timor, and said it could jeopardize ongoing UN-sponsored autonomy negotiations.

The separate appeals came as UN special representative Jamsheed Marker held intensive talks with senior Portuguese and Indonesian officials aimed at reaching agreement on an autonomy deal for the former Portuguese territory annexed by Jakarta in 1976.

"What I'm not very happy about ... is a deterioration in the law and order situation," Marker said during a break in the tripartite talks which are scheduled to resume on Tuesday and continue until the end of next week.

"I have made appeals to all sides in East Timor to maintain peace and not to allow the radical elements on any side to destroy this process or divert it, because we are getting close to a solution," he said.

"We are extremely concerned," the Portuguese delegate to the talks, foreign ministry senior official Fernando Neves said of the unrest which coincided with Indonesia's surprise announcement Wednesday that Jakarta could offer independence to East Timor if autonomy was rejected.

"We have to put an end to violence in East Timor, we have to make a big effort to have stability in East Timor, otherwise the whole process could be jeopardized," he said.

On Wednesday, the Indonesian government, in a drastic shift of stance, said it considered granting independence to the troubled territory, ending two decades of quasi-military rule if a majority of the people there reject an offer of wide-ranging autonomy.

©AFP 1999

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