Subject: *Exiled E. Timorese Militia Sells Arms to Ambon Fighters

South China Morning Post Wednesday, February 9, 2000


Militia sells arms to Ambon fighters

JOANNA JOLLY in Kupang, West Timor and AGENCIES

Defeated East Timorese militia exiled in Indonesian West Timor are selling their weapons to Christian fighters in Ambon to make money.

Ambon is the centre of a vicious sectarian war in the eastern Maluku Islands which has seen thousands of Muslims and Christians killed and tens of thousands more made refugees.

According to an Ambonese Christian, who has been buying weapons from the pro-Jakarta militia since July last year, guns and hand grenades can be easily bought from militia now living in Kupang.

He also said the death toll since the violence in the Malukus began in January last year was 30,000, far higher than has been reported so far.

"We contact people in Dili who stay in houses in Kupang," said the trader, who wished to be identified only as Pauli M. "We know that the militia from Dili have more than 3,000 weapons. That's why we came here. We target them."

The claim came as the United Nations refugee agency yesterday urged Indonesia to halt a new surge in violence against refugees and aid workers in West Timor.

At least four incidents were reported last week at camps near Kupang, the capital of the Indonesian territory, said Ron Redmond, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

They included attacks against journalists and disruption to operations returning refugees to East Timor, Mr Redmond said.

The largest camp in West Timor, Tuapukan - which holds around 20,000 of the 110,000 refugees estimated to remain in the province - was causing the greatest concern.

Pauli M, who had contacts with the Indonesian military (TNI) in East Timor, first travelled to Dili in July before the August 30 United Nations-sponsored referendum, which produced an overwhelming vote for independence.

On that trip he bought three M-16 rifles for 15 million rupiah (HK$15,600) and three handguns for six million rupiah from a militia member, using money collected by the Christian community in Ambon.

He said prices had now increased, with each gun costing as much as 10 million rupiah. But he said it was easier to buy from the militias in Kupang than to deal with arms dealers in Jakarta.

"We needed weapons; some of us went to Dili and some went to Jakarta. Jakarta is the best, but the security is very high. Here is more expensive," he said.

According to Pauli M, the militia collected the guns from refugee camps on the border with East Timor in December when they were ordered to disarm. A small proportion were handed in to Indonesian police, but the rest were taken back to Kupang to sell.

The weapons Pauli M is buying from the militia are likely to have been given to the militia by the TNI. Human rights organisations operating in East Timor say they have ample documentary evidence to prove the TNI armed, trained and funded the pro-Jakarta militias before the referendum.

Despite an arms embargo, Pauli M said it was still possible to smuggle in weapons on small boats.

He accused the TNI of backing the Muslims in the province and named TNI commander Suadi Marasabesi as a supplier of weapons to the Muslim side. He also said Kopassus (special forces) Battalion 303 was actively supporting the Muslims.

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