Subject: Timor leader blames Indonesia for death of New Zealand soldier

Also: Xanana calls Peacekeeper's Death a 'Real Threat' to Transition

Timor leader blames Indonesia for death of New Zealand soldier

BANGKOK, July 25 (AFP) - East Timor leader Jose Ramos Horta Tuesday angrily blamed Indonesia for the death of a New Zealand soldier serving with the UN peacekeeping force in the territory.

Private Leonard Manning, 24, was shot twice Monday afternoon when New Zealand trooops tracking militia fighters in a rugged border area near Suai came under fire.

"It is an outrage, the work of gangsters in the Indonesian army, who have a licence to rape and kill," Ramos Horta said on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting here.

He said the militia groups operating from bases inside Indonesian West Timor were backed by the Indonesian military.

"Tragically, this is what the Indonesian army has become, and you see other evidence of it in Aceh and Irian Jaya," he said, referring to Indonesian provinces where separatist rebellions are raging.

In Bangkok with Ramos Horta, former guerilla leader Xanana Gusmao said the private's death was a "real threat" to the peace and reconciliation process in Timor.

Manning was the first combat casualty since the United Nations-backed peace enforcement team arrived in the former Indonesian territory.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab vowed that the shooting would be investigated.

"We will surely look into that. We have not identified who the perpetrators are," he told reporters here.

Thailand, which this month took over command of the 8,500 UN peacekeeping forces in Timor, expressed its shock at the incident.

"Thailand has sent a letter to express its condolences to the New Zealand embassy here this morning for the lost of their soldier in the East Timor operation," said Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan.

"This is the worst incidence of violence to occur during the UN mission," he said.

However, a senior Thai trade official was more circumspect.

"We express our condolences but it will not overshadow an important ASEAN meeting," he said.

Though the death of the New Zealand soldier stole the limelight from ASEAN's approval Tuesday of a new mechanism to tackle regional troublespots, Ramos Horta said it would not derail East Timor's agenda at the meeting.

The security mechanism is partly a response to ASEAN's embarrassing failure to respond to the violence that wracked Timor last year after its people voted to split from Jakarta.

Timor is attending at the invitation of the Thai government, and plans to apply for membership after winning full independence. It has appealed for help from ASEAN members in rebuilding the territory.

East Timor: Peacekeeper's Death a 'Real Threat' to Transition - Xanana Gusmao 24 Jul-19:55

The killing of a UN peacekeeper on patrol in East Timor is a "real threat" to the territory's transition to independence, CNRT (National Council of Timorese Resistance) president Xanana Gusmao told media Monday in Bangkok.

"At stake is everything we've done until now," he said.

The head of East Timor's UN Transition Administration (UNTAET), Sergio Vieira de Mello, echoed Gusmao's reaction, saying that the incident "endangers everything we've done" in the territory.

"There is no danger at the level of internal security. The only danger that exists comes from (Indonesian) West Timor," the Brazilian UN official added.

The two were referring to the Monday morning clash in which a 24- year old UN peacekeeper from New Zealand was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen while on patrol in the Suai district of East Timor, near the territory's border with Indonesia.

Gusmao said the incident demonstrates that "there are people in Indonesia who are not interested in Indonesia's democratic process, nor in the process of creating an independent East Timor."

"We hope the international community can take these problems seriously," he added, stressing that the CNRT and UNTAET were prepared for "difficult moments" during his homeland's transition to independence.

Gusmao and Vieira de Mello were in the Thai capital to attend the Monday-Tuesday meeting of foreign ministers from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). The guest delegation from East Timor also includes the CNRT's senior diplomat, Jose Ramos Horta, and Mario Carrascalao.

JBC -Lusa

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