Subject: AP: Gang attacks two East Timor villages, kills four during overnight fighting

Gang attacks two East Timor villages, kills four during overnight fighting Sun Jan 5, 5:49 AM ET

By JOSE BELO, Associated Press Writer

DILI, East Timor - Screaming "We are coming back for you!" a gang armed with automatic rifles raided two villages in newly independent East Timor, killing four people and injuring eight, eyewitnesses said Sunday.

The fighting late Saturday and early Sunday in the villages of Tiarelelo and Laubonu — located about 60 kilometers (37.28 miles) southwest of the capital — prompted President Xanana Gusmao and Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri to fly there Sunday afternoon to meet with residents.

Witnesses said they believed the 11 assailants belonged to pro-Indonesia militias, which wrought devastation in East Timor when the half island voted for independence in a 1999 referendum. If their assertion proves true, the attack would be the most serious of its kind by militiamen since the country became independent in May.

Nearly 2,000 civilians in East Timor were believed killed in 1999 and 250,000 forced to flee their homes when Indonesian troops and their militia proxies launched a campaign of terror before and after the referendum.

East Timor gained full independence after a period of transitional rule by the United Nations (news - web sites) following Indonesia's brutal 24-year occupation. Militia leaders have been put on trial in Indonesia and East Timor, and militias have not posed a serious threat since independence.

But last month, East Timor's Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta suggested that pro-Jakarta militiamen were behind a one-day riot that left two dead and dozens of buildings destroyed in Dili. Among the buildings burnt down was the residence of Alkatiri.

On Sunday, Alkatiri suggested militias have became active in the country, though he stopped short of blaming them for the attack on the two villages.

"I believe that pro-Indonesia militias are still active," he said. "They are not trying to invade the country like in 1975 but they are trying to destabilize it."

Villagers said they had no doubt that the 11 men were pro-Jakarta militiamen. They said they recognized the men from the fighting back in 1999 and said some wore Indonesian military uniforms.

Villagers said the men — all armed with automatic rifles — stormed into Tiarelelo, shooting indiscriminately and robbing villagers of money and food. A 17-year-old man was killed and three children were injured, witnesses said.

The gang then moved to the nearby village of Laubonu, where they killed the village head and his son, witnesses said. A third, unidentified villager was also killed, they said.

Villagers told Gusmao that the gang had been active since November in the area. They said the same gang robbed a nearby village and kidnapped six people from another village. Only one of the six has been released, they said.

"It is sad that so many people were killed," Gusmao said. "But the killings will also serve to wake up the United Nations. Until now, the United Nations hasn't trusted the information that has come from the people. We have to stop these problems and bring these people to justice."

Gusmao, who was joined by U.N. security officials, vowed to beef up security in the area and investigate the killings.

A United Nations spokesman could not be reached for comment.

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