Subject: Peacekeeping Commander Optimistic About E Timor Security

Associated Press March 6, 2001

Peacekeeping Commander Optimistic About E Timor Security

DILI, East Timor (AP)--A top commander of the United Nations peacekeeping force in East Timor predicted Tuesday that the security situation in the half-island territory would continue to improve.

However, Maj. Gen. Mike Smith questioned whether Indonesian police and military will be able to deal with East Timorese militiamen who fled to West Timor after the 1999 violence.

"The real question is do the Indonesian authorities...have the capability to prevent the militia operating in West Timor," Smith told reporters in the capital, Dili.

The Australian general is scheduled to leave East Timor after a 14-month tour of duty.

International troops were deployed to East Timor after pro-Indonesian militias laid waste to the country following a vote on independence in Aug. 1999. There are currently around 8,000 U.N. soldiers in the territory.

Two servicemen were killed last year by the militiamen who infiltrated into the country from their bases in Indonesian-held West Timor.

Sunday evening, Australian troops and suspected paramilitaries clashed near the border with West Timor, 5 kilometers from the western town of Maliana.

Australian soldiers opened fired on two gunmen after one of them took aim at an observation position. The men retreated into West Timor after the incident.

Smith said that quick responses to militia incursions from Indonesian West Timor and close cooperation with the East Timorese people had led to improved security.

"None of us can predict the security situation in the future but I am more optimistic now than I was when I first arrived more than 12 months," Smith said.

In a related development, three inmates - including the first militiaman to be convicted for the 1999 violence - have escaped from jails in East Timor, U.N. police said Tuesday.

Joao Fernandes, who was sentenced to 12 years for killing a pro-independence supporter in Maliana in Sept. 1999, and a convicted murderer escaped last Thursday from Gleno jail, 50 kilometers from Dili. The two men are reported to have escaped through the roof of the prison.

Sunday, another prisoner sawed through the bars of his cell in Dili's Becora jail. He was awaiting sentencing for the rape and assault of an international aid worker and for the kidnapping and rape of an East Timorese woman.

"There is an internal inquiry being undertaken and there are indications that there are limitations in the current infrastructure," Director of Prisons Isabele Hight said of the breakouts.

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