Subject: AFP: E. Timorese exiles could mount revolt against Dili: leader

Received from Joyo Indonesian News

Agence France-Presse May 7, 2002

East Timorese exiles could mount revolt against Dili, leader says

East Timorese exiles in Indonesia could help lead a revolt in their former homeland if leaders of the newly-independent nation fail to bring prosperity, an exiles' leader said.

"People in the villages can't pay for their kids' schooling, can't pay for medicine," said Armindo Soares Mariano, acting head of Uni Timor Aswain (UNTAS).

"I hope Xanana can overcome this problem," Mariano told AFP, referring to East Timor's president-elect Xanana Gusmao, who will assume power when his country becomes independent on May 20.

"If he doesn't, I'm certain the people will revolt."

If that happens, East Timorese who remain across the border in Indonesian West Timor could help them, he said.

"If they over there ask for help, they'll go," Mariano said, adding that any unrest could take three to five years to develop.

Pro-Indonesian political organisations and armed militias which were backed by the Indonesian military merged to form UNTAS after East Timorese voted overwhelmingly in August 1999 to separate from Indonesia.

Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975 but pulled its last troops out in October 1999 after a campaign of violence, arson, looting and forced deportation that left the country in ruins and claimed at least 1,000 lives that year.

An estimated 250,000-270,000 people fled volunatarily or were forced across the border into West Timor. Tens of thousands of East Timorese, many of them with links to the former Indonesian government, remain in camps around Kupang and in other parts of West Timor.

But those numbers are increasingly depleting as refugees head home before independence, says the United Nations.

It says more than 6,000 refugees returned home in April, the highest number for more than two years. Since late 1999 nearly 205,000 refugees have gone back, the UN says.

Mariano, former head of the legislature in East Timor, disputes those figures and says many people cross the border claiming to be refugees but later return to West Timor.

UNTAS has "a moral duty" to serve and protect those who remain in Indonesia, he said.

His views appear at odds with those of West Timor government and military officials who have cut off aid to the refugees and are working with the UN to get the refugees out of their province, which is the poorest in Indonesia.

Mariano said UNTAS is looking for "direction" and has had internal problems. But he vowed the organisation will not disband and said it plans to hold a congress some time after East Timor's independence.

"We are in the process of renovating UNTAS," said Mariano.

Describing himself as an expert adviser to the West Timor governor, Mariano said he has no plans to return to his former homeland, which he thinks would have had more opportunities as a part of its giant neighbour Indonesia.

"If later the people aren't happy, don't blame us," said Mariano. "But if they want to make their own nation, go ahead."

Last month UN Secretary General Kofi Annan recommended that the United Nations keep a military force in East Timor for up to two years after independence.

Anti-independence militias in West Timor remained a threat, he said.


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