Subject: AFP: East Timorese militias and UN peacekeepers clash

Agence France-Presse (AFP) Date: 17 Aug 2000 East Timorese militias and UN peacekeepers clash

JAKARTA, Aug 17 (AFP) - Suspected pro-Indonesia militias and Fijian UN peacekeepers traded fire just inside East Timor's border with Indonesia Wednesday night, a UN spokesman said Thursday.

"There were no casualties, and the (suspected) militias withdrew after the exchange of fire and headed back across the border," said Colonel Brynjar Nymo, spokesman for the United Nations Peacekeeping Force.

The clash occurred as the peacekeepers in the UN-administered territory stepped up security in anticipation of attacks by militias on Indonesia's national day on Thursday and several other key dates in August.

Speaking phone from the East Timorese capital of Dili, Nymo gave no further details of the exchange of fire but said the Fijian soldiers were expected to file a detailed report on the clash later Thursday.

He said the clash occurred west of the border town of Suai, 110 kilometers (68 miles) southwest of Dili.

An upsurge in attacks on the UNPKF by suspected pro-Jakarta militias in the border area in recent months has prompted calls from the UN to Indonesia to keep a tighter rein on militias based in West Timor.

Two peacekeepers, one from New Zealand and one from Nepal, have been killed in firefights over the past month.

Nymo said Wednesday that peacekeepers estimated some 150-200 militiamen were currently in East Timor, operating in five to eight groups.

However he described the situation across East Timor on Thursday as "quiet."

Other key dates on which peacekeepers were anticipating disturbances were the 25th anniversary of the pro-independence Falantil army's creation on Sunday, the anniversary of last year's independence ballot on August 30, and the CNRT congress on August 21-29.

The CNRT, or the Council for East Timorese Resistance, headed by resistance leader Xanana Gusmao, is the main group that fought for independence in East Timor when it was under Indonesian rule.

Nymo said peacekeepers had set up extra roadblocks and increased patrols for the remainder of August.

"It's the same increased tempo of operations you'll be seeing in all sectors including the border area and the central sector that includes Dili," he said.

Over the border, in the West Timor capital of Kupang, UN staff said there had been no disturbances Thursday in either Kupang or the border town of Atambua.

The UN, which is helping resettle thousands of refugees that fled the wave of militia violence that followed last year's independence vote, pulled most of its foreign staff out of Atambua last Saturday after pro-Jakarta militias surrounded and threatened their offices.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) had taken on two extra police guards for Indonesia's national day, in anticipation of possible militia disturbances.

Both IOM and UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) staff were observing the national holiday Thursday and not in their offices, a UNHCR representative said.

"I attended the flag-hoisting ceremony at the (West Timor) governor's residence this morning, that went very well ... and I will attend the ceremony to pull the flag down at around 5 o'clock this evening," Adelmo Risi of the UNHCR said by phone.

Among the guests at the morning ceremeony in Kupang was Eurico Guterres, the leader of the feared Aitarak (Thorn) militia, a witness who preferred not to be identified said.

Indonesia Thursday was commemorating 55 years of independence from Dutch colonial rule.

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