Subject: Troubled Timor villages to get troops' protection

The Straits Times Interactive - JAN 7, 2003

Troubled Timor villages to get troops' protection

DILI - East Timor's defence force is to send 180 soldiers to a district where attackers killed four villagers over the weekend, a defence source said yesterday.

A gang armed with automatic rifles stormed into the villages of Tiarelelo and Lobano in Atsabe district on Saturday night, killing three people including a village chief and injuring several others. Advertisement

A fourth victim died on Sunday of his injuries.

The attack was the worst since Indonesia's military and their pro-Jakarta militia proxies withdrew from East Timor after the 1999 referendum.

'We will soon dispatch personnel to Atsabe,' said East Timor Defence Force chief Taur Matan Ruak, adding that they would be supported by United Nations peacekeeping troops.

He did not say how many soldiers would be sent. But a source in the force said 180 troops would be dispatched.

Witnesses, who believed the attackers were pro-Indonesian militiamen who wreaked havoc on the territory after it voted for independence, said some of them wore ninja-style masks.

One of the witnesses, Flaviano, identified one of the attackers who did not wear a mask as a pro-Indonesian militiaman called Manuel.

Brigadier-General Matan Ruak said his own force was not equipped with SKS and G3 rifles, which the attackers were believed to have used.

'We used to have them (rifles) during the resistance but they were all handed over. Only militias have them.'

Brig-Gen Matan Ruak, President Xanana Gusmao and Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri visited the villages on Sunday to meet residents and heard pleas for protection.

Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta has said that former pro-Jakarta militiamen were involved in riots which hit the capital Dili on Dec 4, although he did not suggest they were acting on Jakarta's orders. --AFP

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