Subject: SMH: Falintil may take on militia, UN warned

Sydney Morning Herald Wednesday, August 30, 2000

Falintil may take on militia, UN warned

Photo: Reflected readiness ...Falintil soldiers in the hills outside Dili are eager for action and may be hard to restrain. Photo by AP

By MARK DODD, Herald Correspondent in Dili

East Timor independence leaders have accused the United Nations of failing to uphold its mandate to provide security for the country in the face of cross-border attacks by pro-Indonesian militia.

Growing frustration at the UN's perceived failings have prompted Mr Jose Ramos Horta to warn that East Timorese Falintil guerillas could seek to track down and engage the militia.

However, he denied reports that the independence leader Mr Xanana Gusmao had raised the possibility of attacking militia in their bases in Indonesian West Timor.

Australian peacekeepers operating in rugged hill country north-east of the border town of Maliana yesterday exchanged fire with a group of militia, an Australian UN officer, Captain Dan Hurren, said by telephone from south-western Suai.

There were no Australian casualties. Peacekeepers were last night attempting to track down the group, Captain Hurren said.

The latest violence came on the eve of the first anniversary of East Timor's vote for independence. UN peacekeepers are on heightened alert, fearing an upsurge in attacks to coincide with today's anniversary. There have been at least six armed clashes between UN forces and militias in the past nine weeks.

In Dili, heavily armed Portuguese riot police have set up random road blocks, checking vehicles and verifying identity papers to prevent any violence from marring anniversary celebrations.

Mr Ramos Horta said UN peacekeepers were not being aggressive enough to deter the militia. Portuguese peacekeepers had failed to secure their area of responsibility, allowing militia activity to go unchecked.

There was growing dissatisfaction with their failure to crack down on militia operating in the territory's central sector, he said.

There were "frustratingly slow reactions" from the UN in approving an active military role for Falintil "in terms of defending our own country while there are continuing militia threats", he said.

He insisted the militia were "completely and entirely funded, and supported" by the Indonesian military.

"Either New York is blind or they don't read any newspapers when the diplomats in Jakarta now all unanimously say that the Indonesians are supporting them.

"We are waiting for the Security Council to take additional action to defend this country. That is supposed to be their mandate."

Yesterday UN commanders rushed reinforcements by helicopter to fill a security gap in the south of the territory.

Seventy Portuguese troops were sent to Same, where they would distribute leaflets reassuring locals of their continued support, a UN military spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Brynjar Nymo, said.

The move follows talks on Sunday between the head of the UN mission in East Timor, Mr Sergio Vieira de Mello, and ambassadors, including Portugal's Mr Pedro Moitinho, over Mr Ramos Horta's and Mr Gusmao's complaints of security lapses.

In a second meeting with ambassadors on Monday, reliable sources said Mr Vieira de Mello expressed concern at the peacekeeping force deployment, singling out the Portuguese contingent for criticism.

In the past two months up to 150 militia have crossed through Australian and New Zealand sectors along the border and have now fanned out into southern and central areas, sparsely defended by the Portuguese.

Two peacekeepers have died in clashes with the militia.

UN military commanders say their forces are under strength to seal the border, which stretches 172 kilometres through rugged, mountainous country.

The Falintil army, the former independence resistance force, is living in poor conditions in a UN-designated cantonment at Aileu, south of Dili.

Mr Horta said that while he expected Falintil to maintain discipline, some units could break out and engage the militia if incursions persisted.

"Our Falintil soldiers ... are getting very frustrated and angry, and it would be very difficult, if this situation continues to evolve like this, to prevent a few of them from sneaking out - freelancing and hunting down the militia on their own."

While the militia were not a threat to overall security, he said, "after 24 years many of our people are still living in fear in some of these areas, and that does not make us happy".

UN peacekeepers were handicapped by strict rules of engagement laid down by UN headquarters, he said.

Policymakers had choked the peacekeeping force with unrealistic rules of engagement that favoured the militia.

He called on the UN to allow more liberal rules of engagement to give an active role to Falintil and allow peacekeeping field commanders independence to act without "waiting for a cable from New York to advise them".

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