|Subject: SMH: Army defies UN in autonomy rally
Date: Sat, 19 Jun 1999 14:29:28 +0000
From: "John M. Miller" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Received from Joyo Indonesian News:
Sydney Morning Herald 14/06/99
Army defies UN in autonomy rally
By MARK DODD, Herald Correspondent in Sarmara village
In a swathe of secluded backwoods villages and hamlets across East Timor's remote coffee-growing highlands, pro-Indonesia militias and their army allies continue a deadly campaign to coerce a hapless population to support their autonomy cause.
"We, the Government and militias together, will support the program towards integration," said a senior district government official in an indoctrination speech to about 300 villagers ordered to attend a rally outside this impoverished mountain village, about five hours from the provincial capital of Dili.
The rally, a brazen violation of an international agreement signed by Jakarta, was held last Thursday.
For the first time, local government officials - including police and army personnel - were caught red-handed together with the pro-autonomy "Darah Integrasi" militia, an event witnessed by a senior UN official and a news team from The Sydney Morning Herald.
Loudspeakers blared out the autonomy message while 30 militiamen, many wearing red and white headbands and armed with traditional curved swords, stood watch over a bewildered mass of villagers.
Present were a "Camat", or sub-district chief, about 12 district officials, police, and three military personnel with weapons normally given to special forces units, including a modern Italian-made Beretta 9mm sub-machine gun.
Despite a half-hearted attempt by one Indonesian soldier to stop the UN vehicle from reaching the rally, the government officials were taken by surprise.
Moments after arriving, one district government inspector, clearly angered, ordered the UN interpreter not to translate the broadcast but to say the speech concerned a farming and water project.
The government officials were seated under a makeshift shelter flanked by militiamen. On seeing the newsmen, the three soldiers turned their backs on the rally, shouldered their weapons and walked towards what appeared to be a small military compound.
Under the UN-brokered agreement signed on May 5, Indonesian soldiers and government officials are expected to remain neutral and are banned from involvement in political activities.
East Timorese are scheduled to vote on August 8 for either a wide-ranging autonomy package within Indonesia or outright independence.
However political violence, mostly instigated by pro-Jakarta militias, has left more than 100 dead since January and threatens to delay that timetable.
Last week refugees, teachers and priests shared a similar story of widespread militia intimidation across East Timor's western districts, in particular Liquica, Ermera, Bobanaro and Kova-Lima.
Most independence supporters and leaders have been driven underground and are too afraid to emerge. The UN Special Representative for East Timor, Mr Ian Martin, told the Herald last week that continuing security problems could delay the first phase of the operation - voter registration.
East Timorese resistance fighters (Falintil) have been involved in a handful of attacks since January, but for the most part they have avoided confrontation, obeying ceasefire orders from their leader, Xanana Gusmao, who is under house arrest in Jakarta.
One legacy of the militia violence has been to create a massive pool of internally displaced people. Church sources say up to 36,000 East Timorese have been forced out of their homes.
An official from the UN refugee agency said 2,900 refugees were living in appalling conditions in western Liquica with little or no access to adequate food and medicine. He said 45 children had died there in the past month.
One senior UN official told the Herald: "When the people are scared they do not stay in large groups otherwise they are sitting ducks. It's like the Congo or Guatemala here."
A religious teacher from the village of Hatolia confirmed accounts of militia attacks.
"All the people are afraid. If there is help from the UN they will not be intimidated and they can vote freely. If not, they won't vote," he said.