Subject: Interfet's Exit Has Militia On Warpath

The Australian 28 February, 2000

Interfet's exit has militia on warpath

THE capture of a militia reconnaissance team inside East Timor just one day after Major-General Peter Cosgrove's departure marks a heightened campaign of militia activity in the wake of the Interfet pullout.

 From the time Interfet handed over its last area of operations to the new UN peacekeeping force on February 21, with the formal transition coming into effect two days later, militia activity has been on the rise. UN force commander Lieutenant-General Jaime de Los Santos yesterday told The Australian he could not discount the possibility there were certain "activities that could ignite the militia to test our resolve".

Concerns have been increasing within UN and some military circles over indications of limited militia remobilisation, with last week's attacks on refugees and aid agency staff, as well as the reconnaissance patrol's incursion, the most intense period of militia activity since mid-January.

It was believed the arrest of the last known active militia leader, Moko Soares, who had directed the repeated militia attacks in to the Oecussi enclave, had been the significant step in stemming militia activity.

Since the announcement of his arrest on February 9, there had been a lull in militia harassment and forays into East Timor, but that has now come to an end.

General de Los Santos confirmed two men from a militia unit sent across East Timor's western border were captured on February 24 near the village of Saborai.

During questioning, the men admitted they had been deployed on a mission to identify possible infiltration routes into East Timor so further militia forces could enter the UN-controlled territory. The men have been charged with espionage offences.

Militia also disrupted a UN High Commissioner for Refugees information campaign on Saturday in the village of Monumuti, in West Timor.

Australian army units in the UN peacekeeping force stationed along the western border have reported that militia "appear to be splitting into groups to attack" refugee convoys and aid agency workers.

That report follows the stabbing of an International Organisation for Migration doctor by a militia member in the West Timorese regional capital of Atambua on February 21, the day Interfet troops on the border transformed into blue helmet soldiers under the command of the UN.

Indonesian media has also reported a number of militia were detained at the border on Saturday by Indonesian soldiers when they became abusive because of the cancellation of a family reunion day.

General de Los Santos said there was a strong, however false, perception "among some East Timorese that our capabilities may not be the same as Interfet".

But virtually all of the UN troops on the critical western border are the same Australian and New Zealand soldiers who were stationed there as part of the Interfet force.

The renewed militia activity comes as Interfet's border agreement with the Indonesian army is being renegotiated by General de Los Santos.

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