Subject: Australian: Timor's incursion crisis plea

The Australian January 22, 2003

Timor's incursion crisis plea

By John Kerin and Monica Videnieks

EAST Timor is facing the greatest threat to its stability since independence with its security forces struggling to repel Indonesian military-backed militia raids ­ and claiming Australia won't fully commit its peacekkeepers to the struggle.

A senior East Timor government official said yesterday the security situation in the fledgling nation had deteriorated to its worst state since before independence last May.

"Militia are coming across the border (from Indonesian West Timor) in an organised fashion and people are once again living in fear," the official told The Australian yesterday.

"We need help and if Australia wants to ensure continuing stability for East Timor then these elements need to be dealt with. Australia has forces here and it must do something."

The official claimed the UN peacekeeping force, which includes an Australian contingent of 1000 troops, was refusing to get involved in what UN commanders insisted were local policing matters, and that East Timorese police and defence forces were unable to cope.

The Timorese want Australian troops, in particular, to give direct military assistance in combating the internal security threat, which they say is sponsored and supported by elements of Kopassus, the Indonesian army's notorious special forces.

The security deterioration could force Australia to maintain troops there into 2004 and beyond. The UN peacekeeping mandate expires in May but the Australian Government is already expected to extend its commitment at least to the end of the year.

East Timorese politicians and officials believe the UN force is scaling down its security role at a pace too fast for the local police and military to cope with insurgents.

There have been two serious incursions so far this month by West Timor-based militias.

According to a police report obtained by The Australian, on January 13 a group of nine militiamen armed with homemade knives and guns attacked villagers in the Bazartete district near Liquica. About 100 villagers overpowered and captured six of the attackers.

Under interrogation, militia leader Miguel Metan admitted to having "been armed by Kopassus" with the instruction to "kill the village chiefs, political leaders and those who go against them".

Earlier, on January 4, six militiamen armed with AK-47s attacked another village and killed four East Timorese. They were driven off only after Portuguese troops assigned to the UN force intervened.

The East Timorese claim they appealed for Australian help to repel the January 4 raid but were rebuffed.

Labor's foreign affairs spokesman, Kevin Rudd, who recently met East Timor's Foreign Minister, Jose Ramos Horta, said the deteriorating security situation was gravely concerning.

"At a time when John Howard is forward-deploying 1500 troops to Iraq, we face an emerging security crisis in East Timor where Australia's 1000 peacekeepers are already stretched to the limit," Mr Rudd said.

"The Government of East Timor is now deeply concerned about the increasing penetration of its sovereign territory by militia forces from the west," he said.

He urged Foreign Minister Alexan der Downer to raise with the Indonesian Government the role of Kopassus forces in co-ordinating militia raids into East Timor.

But a spokesman for Mr Downer said last night he had met Mr Ramos Horta only 10 days ago and the East Timor Government had made no request for extra help.

"If there was a serious problem you would think it would have been raised at that meeting."

The spokesman said Australia's peacekeepers in East Timor were under the command of the UN, bound by the mandate and subject to the direction of its commanders.

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