Subject: Insecuirty Complex: Xanana discusses Timor's security problems

The Bulletin (Australia)



Following recent border raids, Xanana Gusmao discusses East Timor's security problems with John Martinkus.

Australian peacekeepers have finally broken their silence about recent militia raids into East Timor ("Border raiders", B, January 28). Deputy Force Commander of the East Timor Peacekeepers (PKF), Brigadier General Justin Kelly, has admitted the raiders, who killed five people in the Atsabe region, entered the country through the Australian sector.

"At least one of these groups did exfiltrate through our area," he told The Bulletin.

In an operation involving helicopters, sniffer dogs and ground patrols, the Australians discovered an abandoned militia camp a week after the raids. The discovery adds to a growing list of militia activity reported by the local population and the East Timor Defence Force (FDTL).

In its first major operation, the FDTL has just completed a two-week push to flush out militia still in East Timor. Their methods have been strongly criticised by local human rights groups. Of the 130 suspects arrested, only eight have been kept in custody, one of whom testified in court that he had been briefed by Indonesian troops before he was sent over the border.

President Xanana Gusmao defends the FDTL. "People cannot go to their gardens to see their corn and potatoes," he told The Bulletin. "If we allow them [the militia] to continue, the community will face problems. If we arrest, we get criticised. It is a kind of dilemma the contingents [PKF] will have to face."

The morning after the January 4 attacks, Gusmao asked the FDTL to secure the area. "If PKF operate alone, maybe they don't have a chance because they don't know the people," he says. Gusmao recalls how in his days as a guerilla commander, he was often able to travel in the open and would sometimes even wave at Indonesian troops. He says the militia now do the same to the peacekeepers. "These men they will just salute you and say 'Hello mister'. You won't catch them."

Kelly admits that the Australians are unable to seal the border. "There is 142km of very rough terrain. Anybody who wants to sneak through has a reasonable chance of getting through. I could infiltrate through if I wanted to," he says.

Both Gusmao and the PKF command say there is no evidence of Indonesian military involvement in the latest incursions. But no one is denying the raiders came from across the border and used Indonesian military-issue weapons.

East Timor's refusal to offer amnesty to militia fighters and the lenient sentences handed out at the human rights tribunal in Jakarta provide little incentive for militia leaders such as Joao Tavares, who has been linked to the Atsabe raid, to return. The two East Timorese so far convicted in Jakarta of human rights abuses, former governor Abilio Soares and former militia leader Eurico Guterres, reportedly spent Christmas with relatives in West Timor. They remain free pending appeal.

Gusmao remains philosophical about the ongoing security problem. "The events in Atsabe must not divide us. It must be a lesson in how to combine our efforts."


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