Subject: AFR: Pro-Indonesian Militia Stronger Than Ever

Australian Financial Review Monday, August 14, 2000

Militia stronger than ever

By Tim Dodd, Jakarta

Nearly a year after the vote for independence in East Timor, a resurgence of pro-Indonesian militia groups and a lack of action by Indonesian authorities to curb their growing activities has United Nations officials frustrated and worried.

UN peacekeeping commanders say that the militia are better armed and better trained than they used to be. Militia groups still control many refugee camps in West Timor, preventing an estimated 100,000 East Timorese from returning to their homes, which gives them bases for new attacks against the peacekeepers.

The militia have killed two UN soldiers in attacks in East Timor in the past three weeks.

On Saturday the UN decided to withdraw most of its staff from Atambua, the main border town in West Timor, a day after militia threatened UN personnel.

Reports said that the building of the UN's International Office for Migration was surrounded by about 50 machete-wielding members of the Aitarak militia - one of the pro-Indonesia paramilitary groups which became notorious in East Timor last year for its violence.

The problem for the UN is that Indonesian authorities refuse to act against the militia leaders operating in the camps and, on Friday, the head of the UN's mission in East Timor, Mr Sergio de Mello, expressed growing frustration.

"The solution is what we've been requesting from the Indonesian Government since October last year, which is to identify - which is not difficult - disarm and detain those extremist elements who are operating from within the camps," he said.

"That's what needs to be done, and as long as that doesn't happen then I'm afraid refugees will not come back and our people will continue to die," he said.

It is clear why the militia, and their high-level supporters, are preventing the refugee problem from being solved. As long as East Timorese are in the West Timor camps under militia control the militia will retain a presence in the border area and have access to a ready source of young men to turn into a guerrilla force.

Earlier on Friday, the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Mr Alwi Shihab, said the Government was drawing up plans to close the camps, but Mr de Mello said this was not adequate.

"Closing down the camps is a fairly vague concept," he said. "Once you close them down, what do you do with the refugees? Do you throw them into the sea? Do you force them across the border?"

Two anniversaries are approaching which the militia may mark with more attacks. This Thursday is Indonesia's independence day which the militia may want to mark with a demonstration of their allegiance.

And August 30 is the first anniversary of the ballot in which nearly 80 per cent of East Timorese ignored militia threats and violence and voted for independence.

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