Subject: Indon soldiers may have "encouraged" E. Timor militias: Shihab

Indonesian soldiers may have "encouraged" East Timor militias: minister

JAKARTA, Aug 19 (AFP) - Indonesian Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab on Saturday said some soldiers might have encouraged the pro-Jakarta militias in the border area of East Timor.

"It is possible that certain individual (soldiers) have encouraged the militias' operations, but as an institution it is obvious that the military doesn't want the incidents to happen," Shihab told journalists.

Tensions have risen in East Timor following a spate of armed encounters and the killing and mutilation of a New Zealand peacekeeper in the border area last month -- thought to have been carried out by West Timor-based anti-independence militia.

Shihab said Jakarta was determined to close camps in West Timor where East Timorese refugees and militia have sheltered since last year's vote for independence from Indonesia, to enable the government to put an end to the violence on the border.

The foreign minister had said on Monday the goverrnment would set up an inter-departmental task force to prepare the closure of the camps, which he said would take place within three to six months.

"We don't want to be blamed. But the truth is there are people who have engaged in violence, which has caused fatalities," he said.

"Closing the camps is intended to avert accusations that we are not willing to solve the problems on the border," he added.

He said authorities in West Timor had recently found arms hidden by militias.

But "it is not easy to disarm all of them," he added.

Shihab also said his counterparts in New Zealand and Australia had expressed their support for the plan to dismantle the camps and repatriate or relocate the refugees.

The United States and the European Union have also pledged financial support for the program, he said.

According to the UN High Commisioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 103 attacks against humanitarian workers and refugees have been recorded in West Timor since the aid programs there began in September 1999, apparently to prevent the emptying of the camps.

The most recent spate of intimidatory attacks on the aid workers has forced the UNHCR to slow down its refugee repatriation activities in the West, where militiamen mingle with, and often control, the refugees in the camps.

Some 250,000 East Timorese fled or were driven out of East Timor after the independence ballot. Pro-Jakarta milita followed them when UN peacekeepers arrived to quell the wave of militia violence launched to avenge the vote.

Some 170,000 of the refugees have since returned home.

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