Subject: SMH/East Timor: Fear of militia again grips border villagers

Also: Timorese flee to forests to escape militia

Sydney Morning Herald August 19, 2000

Fear of militia again grips border villagers

By Mark Dodd, Herald Correspondent in Labarai village

Hundreds of East Timorese villagers near the western border, still suffering the emotional scars of last year's militia violence, are again living in fear as United Nations peacekeepers are forced on the defensive by small well-armed groups of hardline insurgents.

Mr Bernadino Lay, 40, a farmer, recounted a recent meeting with militia infiltrators in dense forest just north of the hamlet of Labarai. "The militia said: 'Don't tell the PKF [peacekeepers]. You Labarai people, if you tell PKF or CNRT [the pro-independence movement] you will be killed."'

On August6, as he does every week, Mr Lay walked with 10 other villagers up the mountains to graze his cattle and hunt for wild game. That day he and his friends suddenly found themselves surrounded by heavily armed militiamen.

"I was shaking; I'm still worried. I just kept silent; I did not move; they had surrounded us."

His friend Mr Elidio Andrade, 28, said he saw nine militia, half of them dressed in Indonesian camouflage uniform. All were armed and menacing.

"The militia told us, 'Stay seated; don't move. Just keep silent."'

However, Mr Andrade said he could tell by listening to the regional dialects what part of East Timor the militia were from. Some were members of Eurico Guterres's Aitarak, speaking Tetunleric, many were Kemac from Suai, and there were Makasae from Baucau.

New Zealand Army intelligence officers confirmed that former northern-based militia had been reported infiltrating into East Timor.

Labarai's 856 people live simple lives centred on a small church and a weekly market day. They live in sturdy traditional thatched-roof homes, raise cattle, pigs and chickens and grow green beans, maize and bananas.

Just when they thought peace and stability were finally returning, the militia launched a new offensive last month, the most likely targets being UN peacekeepers or prominent local independence officials.

In the Labarai confrontation the militia asked the villagers if they knew the whereabouts of Ruis Lopez, once a prominent Suai-based pro-integration leader who has since switched sides and is now regarded as a traitor. It is likely he is a target for a death squad.

The militia also sought information on the locations of the nearest UN military post and aid agencies.

Further east along the main coastal road, 20 kilometres from Suai, the residents of Holbolu, a small sub-hamlet in Beco, fear for their lives. A clash last week between Nepalese peacekeepers and Mahidi militia just outside their village left one Nepalese blue beret killed and four other people injured, including one villager, shot in the legs in crossfire.

The hamlet warden, Mr Jose de Jesus, said: "We could hear the sound of the weapons very close; we were very scared. I am responsible for this area so I gathered everybody together and took them to the school. People were very scared.

"The PKF asked us not to leave the village because there are many militia around in the area."

Mr de Jesus echoed the fears of the Labarai villagers, saying: "We need the PKF. It would be better if they stayed here. We would feel better."

Already two families have had enough and have left for the security of nearby Suai. Only the men have stayed to look after their homes and property.

News of militia sightings travels fast. In Maununo village, on a remote mountain ridge opposite Ainaro, in the shadow of mighty Mt Ramelau, villagers have heard of a large group of militia seen down in the valley in Zumalai. Many families leave their homes at night, preferring to brave the chill mountain air in the forest than risk militia harassment.

They have good reason to be afraid: last year hardline militia murdered 12 villagers and injured five, suspecting them of being independence supporters, Mr Fernando Xavier, the chief of the Ainaro CNRT branch, said.

Timorese flee to forests to escape militia 
By ANDREW PERRIN Herald correspondent AINARO - 

Villagers in East Timor's mountainous central southwest have again fled to the forest afraid for their lives, while others have organised vigilante groups to defend themselves against possible militia attack. The terrified villagers say they no longer trust the United Nations peacekeeping force to guarantee their safety. The exodus to the mountains of 1200 people from the remote village of Maununo, roughly 40km from the West Timor border, is the first time people have felt compelled to leave their homes since international security forces arrived in East Timor last September. Hundreds of thousands of Timorese sought refuge in the mountains after the wave of militia violence that swept the territory following the August 30 independence vote. Most returned to their burned-out villages and towns after an Australian-led Interfet force forced the militia groups over the border into West Timor. In the past month, the security situation along the rugged border separating UN-controlled East Timor from West Timor has deteriorated, with militia incursions into the newly independent state increasing. Militia assaults in the past month have left two UN peacekeepers dead, including New Zealand peacekeeper Private Leonard Manning, and plunged the already traumatised Timorese living near the border into a state of panic. In Maununo, the sighting of a militia group close to the village last Thursday devastated the small farming community. Village chief Afonso Da Cunha said when the people heard that militia were in the area they ran straight into the forest. Last September, the militia killed 12 people in Maununo in one of the worst single massacres recorded in the central southwestern region. The town's entire population is now camped in the open air along a river valley not far from the village, returning only by day to stock up with provisions. "I will not return until the peacekeeping force send some soldiers to live in the town," said Marguerido Bianco, a mother of six, who is camped in the same patch of dirt she and her family inhabited for a month last year before the arrival of peacekeepers. Da Cunha claimed Portuguese peacekeepers based in Ainaro, 10km north of the village, were reluctant to base soldiers in the village because of its inaccessibility by road. "They came here for 10 minutes on Saturday and told us that we should not be scared, and then they left," he said. "But we are all still living in the forest." The people's fears appear justified following a raft of confirmed militia sightings in the area this week. In Cassa, 20km south of Maununo, a militia group entered the town on Sunday night and left after harassing the local populace. More worrying for the UN peacekeeping forces was the presence of roughly 40 militia near the town of Hatu Buliko, high in the mountains of central west Timor, on Sunday night. Cesar Opricio, a UN senior inspector who travelled to Hatu Buliko on Monday to investigate the sighting, said the frightened populace had formed a vigilante group to defend the village against a militia attack. No one slept in the village on Sunday night, he said. "They all huddled together and the men formed their own security," said Opricio. "They were all heavily armed with machetes. "They said they did not want a repeat of last year. Things are getting worse. It's bad." UN officials in Dili fear that today's anniversary of Indonesia's Independence Day may encourage the militia to launch attacks to show their allegiance to Jakarta. UN peacekeeping spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Brynjar Nemo said security in the border areas was being revised to counter the increase in militia activity. end

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