|Subject: RT: E. Timor militia leader vows fight to
Date: Sat, 01 May 1999 08:41:33 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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INTERVIEW-E. Timor militia sees split territory, vows fight to death
DILI, East Timor, April 25 (Reuters) - A prominent pro-Jakarta militia leader said on Sunday he could never accept independence for East Timor and called for the territory to be split if an upcoming vote favours leaving Indonesia.
Eurico Guterres, the 24-year-old deputy chief of the Aitarak (thorn) militia, said independence would spark a civil war worse than the violence which erupted after Portugal quit its colony in 1975.
Surrounded by dozens of militiamen at his home in Dili's old Tropical Motel, Guterres said he would always fight to remain part of Indonesia, even if a majority of East Timorese vote for independence in a U.N.-run ballot.
``I am ready to fight,'' he told Reuters in an interview. ``I won't accept independence. If I accept it, I will surely die. It is better I kill than be killed.''
He said East Timor should be halved -- an independent east and an Indonesian west -- if a U.N.-run ballot favoured independence. The west of the island is already a separate Indonesian province.
In U.N.-brokered talks on Friday, Indonesia and Portugal agreed on an autonomy offer for East Timorese to vote on in July or August.
After 23 years of brutally crushing any attempt at independence, the year-old Jakarta government says it may let East Timor go it alone if the autonomy deal is rejected.
President B.J. Habibie wants the issue settled by year-end.
Indonesia's rule over the eastern half of Timor island since a 1975 invasion has never been recognised by the United Nations or much of the world community.
Pro-Jakarta militias have stepped up their bloody campaign against independence since Habibie's policy reversal, sparking worldwide outrage and mounting pressure on the government to rein in the militias which operate at will in the territory.
In the latest incident, human rights and church officials and a militia source say up to 100 people were killed in militia attacks around Suai, 200 km (120 miles) southwest of Dili last week. Guterres and the military, which is accused of arming the militias, deny any massacre took place.
Rampaging pro-Jakarta supporters also killed up to 30 in Dili last weekend.
Dili was quiet this weekend. About 2,000 people peacefully attended mass at Nobel peace laureate Bishop Carlos Belo's waterfront compound.
But the militias plan plan pro-Jakarta rallies in the towns of Balibo and Ermera on Monday, raising fears of renewed unrest.
Guterres said he was prepared to disarm his men, who he says number 50,000 across the territory, and guarantee peace ahead of the vote if pro-independence guerrillas did the same.
``Indeed, that's what I want -- we all want peace,'' he said, as a young girl played with a toy pistol in a nearby militia jeep.
Guterres would not say how many guns his men had.
The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said last week Aitarak numbered only 1,000 men, with about 100 guns. However it said Guterres was one of the most active militia leaders.
The long-haired, solidly-built Guterres speaks rapidly and loudly, firing words like a machine gun.
He is considered one of the more hardline militia leaders and was a signatory to a letter threatening Australian diplomats and journalists because of Canberra's support for self-determination.
On Sunday, he repeated he could not guarantee foreign journalists' safety if they did not write accurately.
``It is better to sacrifice one journalist than to sacrifice 800,000 East Timorese,'' he said.
Alarmed by the upsurge in violence, Australia and Indonesia plan an East Timor crisis summit in Bali on Tuesday, attended by Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Habibie and the foreign and defence ministers from both nations.
But Guterres warned Howard not to meddle in East Timor and said his troops were ready to confront any Australian soldiers sent in as part of a United Nations operation.
``Australia interferes too much in East Timor's affairs,'' he said. ``If the visit is only to make the problem worse, I think it's better he goes back. If he...says he will send troops or says he will support East Timorese independence, I can't accept that.''