Subject: SMH: UN Force on High Alert as Timor Militia Stalk

Sydney Morning Herald Friday, August 18, 2000

UN force on high alert as militia stalk

By MARK DODD in Suai and JOANNA JOLLY in Kupang

Security on the East Timor border is at an all-time high, with the United Nations peacekeeping force struggling to cope with militia incursions which have left some local people afraid and vulnerable.

Up to 150 militia from Indonesian West Timor are believed to have crossed the border, and UN officers fear peacekeepers are their targets.

A former militia leader in the West Timor capital, Kupang, said yesterday that the militia would particularly target Australian and Portuguese troops.

The heightened tension comes ahead of the anniversary on August 30 of East Timor's vote for independence and next month's anniversary of the arrival of international troops in the territory.

Fijian peacekeepers near Suai exchanged fire with four militiamen yesterday close to the border and were continuing to track them last night.

The Fijians had laid in wait for the militia along an infiltration route in rugged forested country 10 kilometres north-west of Suai.

No Fijian troops were injured during the brief exchange of fire, which occurred after the militia were told to drop their weapons.

The gun fight comes amid extreme security along the entire 172-kilometre border. About 1,600 Australian, New Zealand, Fijian, Nepalese and Irish troops have secured the border, a number UN commanders now regard as under strength.

The militia attacks come as several countries are rotating their battalions out of East Timor. A Philippine contingent has been moved to Dili to allow more Portuguese to fan out into higher-risk areas of southern Ainaro and Cassa.

On Tuesday, the deputy commander of UN forces in East Timor, Major-General Mike Smith, warned that the security situation was at an all-time high, not seen since the UN took over from the Australian-led Interfet force in February.

Two peacekeepers, a Nepalese and a New Zealander, have died in clashes with the militia in recent weeks, although UN officers say these were the result of chance encounters rather than planned attacks.

Local people have reported numerous sightings of militia in the past fortnight. Small bands have penetrated as far as Ainaro district, despite a huge security operation by UN peacekeepers. Some people in the district are now leaving their houses at night to sleep in the forest, fearing militia attacks.

The New Zealand battalion commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Martin Dransfield, said as many as 150 armed militia were believed to be in East Timor, and their intention was probably to try to kill UN peacekeepers, not local people.

People in Holbolu hamlet, close to the site of last week's clash with Nepalese troops, said yesterday that militia had tried to come into town for food.

Recent violence has left locals scared and vulnerable.

"The PKF [UN peacekeeping force] have asked us not to leave the village because there are many militia in the area," Mr Jose de Jesus, a farmer, said. But he needed to walk into the hills to hunt and to graze his cattle, he said.

More than 100 people live in the village, but two families have already moved to the safety of Suai, six kilometres away.

The men had ordered their wives and children to leave while they remained, guarding family property, Mr de Jesus said.

In Kupang, a former militia intelligence head, Mr Elly Cater Ana, said recent attacks on UN troops were carried out by militia and former Indonesian soldiers who had hidden in East Timor's mountains for a year.

"I have heard that the groups in East Timor want to kill Australian and Portuguese soldiers, especially Australians as since they have been in East Timor they are not neutral," he said.

Local West Timor activists said they had evidence that elements in the army continued to train militia. The activists named two training camps close to the border town of Atambua and a hidden location near the village of Sesekoe, east of Atambua.

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