Subject: NZ Herald: Timor racketeers seized in dawn raid by NZ troops

NZ Herald

Timor racketeers seized in dawn raid by NZ troops

06.07.2000 - By GREG ANSLEY

New Zealand troops have broken a militia-linked extortion racket in a crackdown on organised crime in the western border region of East Timor.

In a dawn raid on two villages, soldiers of 2/1 Battalion NZ Infantry Regiment and United Nations police officers arrested eight alleged racketeers.

Among them was former militia leader Domingos Pereira who, with other militiamen and local hoodlums, allegedly extracted what by East Timorese standards was a small fortune from villagers whose lives had already been ravaged by last year's pro-Indonesian killing and destruction.

Action is now planned against at least one other organised gang operating in the southwest of East Timor in what is intended as a crackdown on crime and a sharp warning to others to stay clear of the region.

Military and UN officials are concerned at the growth of crime and violence in the East Timorese capital of Dili and want to prevent this in the south.

There is no evidence of links between protection rackets in the southwest and Dili gangs, but there is concern that networks could develop, possibly through former militia members who have returned from West Timor.

The New Zealand battalion commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Martin Dransfield, said Army intelligence units had reported the appearance of former militiamen in East Timor's growing underworld, with patrols confirming the emergence of an extortion racket centred on the villages of Sibuni and Holmeser, northeast of Suai.

In a classic technique, former militiamen joined by local thugs were using threats of violence to demand protection money from terrified villagers, who had alerted special military liaison officers working to instil confidence and gather intelligence.

Villagers also reported that the gang had stockpiled weapons and ammunition, including grenades.

Army units swooped on the two villages before first light on Tuesday, initially arresting five of 10 wanted men in a house-to-house search. There was no resistance and by late afternoon three more had been arrested.

Soldiers and police also seized several million rupiah - a huge amount of money in impoverished East Timor - radio equipment and outlawed arrows and air rifles.

Colonel Dransfield said the operation, called Katana, was part of a strategy to attack crime before it took hold, with soldiers cooperating with UN civilian police in an action that would now move against other crime groups.

Organised crime in the southwest did not appear to be linked to wider networks, but instead took advantage of areas left in relative isolation.

"As a consequence ... criminal elements have been attracted to them and have been able to establish a presence.

"Also, as the militia return home from the west [under reconciliation programmes], by their very nature there is the possibility that some will cause trouble here.

"My intent is to track them, to know when they come back, know where they have gone, and know if they are integrating back as positive elements of their communities or if they are coming back and causing problems," Colonel Dransfield said.

"I intend taking the initiative against crime, rather than sitting around and waiting."

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