Subject: AU: Timor vote caught in crossfire
Date: Sat, 17 Jul 1999 09:18:04 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Received from Joyo Indonesian News:

The Australian 13 July 99

Timor vote caught in crossfire

>From Jakarta correspondent DON GREENLEES

EAST Timor militia leader Eurico Guterres was due to meet UN envoy Francesc Vendrell in Dili on Saturday. He didn't show up.

The UN was led to believe Guterres instead went to see Governor Abilio Soares, a man with whom he has regular contact.

The pro-Jakarta militias do not bother to disguise the contempt with which they regard the UN Assistance Mission in East Timor (UNAMET). Even if Guterres did try to see Vendrell later by going to the central Mahkota Hotel, as he claims, the militia has clearly got the UN in its sights.

Asked if he can guarantee the safety of UN personnel, Guterres, the head of the Aitarak militia, says: "I cannot guarantee that. They have to safeguard themselves. I have already said that if UNAMET does not remain neutral, I won't take part in the ballot.

"We have no plan to oppose UNAMET, but we could do that if they don't respect us."

Such veiled warnings have been backed by a spate of attacks and threats against UN staff and posts. Forces supporting Indonesian rule have rejected UNAMET's presence, accusing it of bias in favour of independence. Although the UN has reacted sharply to acts of harassment, the problems have at times been worse than it has publicly disclosed and reinforce misgivings about the role being played by Indonesia's troops.

Two incidents, in particular, have given officials cause for concern over the UN's precarious position in East Timor. Late on Wednesday, June 30, the UN said seven electoral staff were being pulled out of the town of Viqueque, in the territory's south-east, because of militia threats.

Shortly before the threats were made, local police in Viqueque were told about a killing in a nearby village. They went to the area and retrieved the body. Back in Viqueque, the trouble started.

A group of troops demanded the body be handed over. The local police refused

Guns were drawn in a tense stand-off, said to have been witnessed by a UN political officer. While the army backed down, the UN may have paid the price.

A band of militia subsequently arrived and made the threats against UN staff. In Dili, UNAMET headquarters could get only sketchy reports of the situation on the ground because of communications difficulties, highlighting another weakness in the initial phase of its deployment.

Even after the seven electoral staff were withdrawn, the problems continued. On the Thursday night, police protecting a residence housing some of the remaining UN personnel fired warning shots in the air to scare off a group gathering outside. The identity of this group is unknown – some believe they could have been militia or military.

The next incident took place the following Sunday in Liquica, west of Dili. An aid convoy returning from assisting refugees was attacked by members of the Besi Merah Putih (Red and White Iron) militia. This incident led to the withdrawal of all UN personnel.

Earlier in the day, two UN vehicles had passed through a militia roadblock. Their vehicles were searched, but they were otherwise unhindered. The most troubling aspect of the encounter was an East Timorese with the UN recognised someone manning the roadblock – a military intelligence sergeant in plain clothes, carrying a two-way radio.

When a UN helicopter tried to evacuate Liquica staff, it had to abort a landing because of gunfire. Bullets were seen striking the ground.

After numerous trips to Liquica by UN security officers, the Liquica post is yet to reopen. All but two of the staff assigned to Liquica said they wanted to see security improve further before they returned.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has now delayed a decision on whether conditions are right to allow the start of voter registration.

It was due to begin today but a decision will be made on Friday as to whether it can proceed.

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