Subject: KY: Militias in W. Timor remain a threat to E. Timor

Received from Joyo Indonesian News

FOCUS: Militias in W. Timor remain a threat to E. Timor

By Fairus Husaini

DILI, East Timor, March 8 (Kyodo) - The U.N. Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration have assisted more than 190,000 East Timorese refugees make voluntary returns home from West Timor since October 1999.

But many of the nearly 50,000 refugees still in West Timor are former pro-Indonesia militia leaders and their supporters who remained armed and, according to some in East Timor, remain a clear threat to East Timor as it transitions to independence in May.

Nemesio Lopes de Carvalho, 36, a former deputy commander of the Ainaro-based militia group Mahidi, confirmed that many former militia members in West Timor still have weapons.

''They did not hand over all their weapons to the Indonesian government, '' de Carvalho told Kyodo News.

Mahidi, an Indonesian abbreviation meaning ''Live or die for integration with Indonesia,'' was led by de Carvalho's brother Cansio who controlled 8,000 members and the districts of Ainaro, Kovalima, Manufahi and Ailiu in central East Timor.

The group was one of several militia groups set up and backed by Indonesia's military ahead of a U.N.-sponsored referendum on independence for the former Portuguese colony on Aug. 30, 1999.

Many militia members would face arrest for their involvement in massive atrocities in East Timor before, during and after the referendum in which the vast majority of East Timorese voted to sever all ties with Indonesia, but only if they are caught.

De Carvalho, who returned to his hometown Ainaro last October, said many of the still-armed militia leaders, including his brother, refuse to return to East Timor at the moment, but they plan to do so once the United Nations leaves the new country.

''They are waiting for an appropriate time, which is likely after all U.N. peacekeeping troops leave East Timor,'' de Carvalho said.

The U.N. Security Council has agreed the U.N. should stay engaged in East Timor after independence to ensure security and stability, but there has been no decision on how long peacekeeping troops will remain in the country.

UNTAET officials have said peacekeeping troops may stay for another year or two, but already it has begun downsizing its military component and the current deployment of nearly 8,000 troops will be cut to 5,000 by independence day on May 20.

Many fear, however, if the U.N. deployment is further reduced and the still-armed militia members return from West Timor, then East Timor's own military -- just 650 troops -- and its police -- only 1,300 men -- would be unable to maintain security.

Clementino dos Reis Amaral, a member of East Timor's Constitutional Assembly from the Association of East Timorese Heroes, told Kyodo News he is particularly concerned about security threats from militia in West Timor once the peacekeepers leave.

''I will write a letter to UNTAET leader Sergio Vieiro de Mello to pay a more attention to this,'' he said, adding he wants the peacekeepers to stay beyond 2004, especially in the border area with West Timor.

Amaral, who is a former member of Indonesia's Commission on Human Rights, said Indonesia would be responsible if any security breaches occur along the border, partly because Indonesia claims to have disarmed the militia members in West Timor.

Indonesia came under strong international pressure to disarm the militias after three UNHCR staff members were murdered in the West Timor border town Atambua by a militia-led mob in September 2000.

In May last year, an Indonesian lower court convicted six men of ''committing violence that resulted in the deaths'' of the UNHCR staff members, but it sentenced them to only 10 to 20 months in jail.

The country's Supreme Court later stiffened the sentence to six to seven years in jail, but many in East Timor still feel there is neither enough deterrence nor determination on the Indonesian side to prevent more violence in the future, particularly if the U.N. sends the peacekeepers home.

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