Subject: E. Timor Leader Gusmao Meets With Pro-Indon Militia Groups

Associated Press August 8, 2001

East Timor Leader Meets With Pro-Indonesian Militia Grps

DILI, East Timor (AP)--In an attempt to foster national reconciliation, East Timor's pro-independence leader Xanana Gusmao met leaders of the pro-Indonesian militia bands that laid waste to his country two years ago, U.N. officials said Wednesday.

The previously unannounced meeting took place Tuesday on the border between East Timor and the Indonesian-held western half of the island, U.N. spokesman Peter Biro.

About 300 people, most of them militia members, attended the gathering in the village of Salele, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) southwest of East Timor's capital, Dili.

The rally was the latest in a series of such meetings organized by Gusmao, who led East Timor's struggle for independence from Indonesia, to convince militia leaders and their followers to return and take part in the country's first elections Aug. 30.

"The number of participants was unexpected and unprecedented, but the community wanted to come en masse to talk," said Nagalingam Parameswaran, a senior U.N. official who organized the event.

Gusmao, who is widely expected to become the first president of the newly independent East Timor, has said that he supports the idea of giving amnesties to former militiamen.

"Xanana is respected at the highest level by the pro-Jakarta leaders and he has the ability to bring the community together," Parameswaran said.

Indonesia invaded the half-island territory in 1975 after Portuguese colonial rule collapsed. But Indonesian forces were never able to suppress a guerrilla movement, which enjoyed wide support among the population. In the 1990s, the military recruited a number of armed militia groups to act as auxiliaries in the war.

When the government in Jakarta agreed in 1997 to allow a U.N.-supervised referendum on independence, the paramilitaries were used to terrorize the population into voting for union with Indonesia. But the attempt backfired and the ballot resulted in an overwhelming vote for independence.

The Indonesian military and their proxies responded by killing hundreds and destroying most of East Timor's infrastructure and buildings. When international troops arrived in September 1999, thousands of militiamen fled to West Timor with the withdrawing Indonesian troops.

Although most refugees have since been repatriated, the U.N. says about 50,000 people remain in refugee camps in West Timor. The majority have links with the former Indonesian administration or militia groups.

The world body is administering East Timor during its transition to full independence, expected sometime next year.

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