Subject: SMH: Border town booming as strife boosts business
Date: Sat, 20 Mar 1999 09:23:46 -0500
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Received from Joyo: Sydney Morning Herald 20/03/99

Border town booming as strife boosts business

By JOHN MARTINKUS, in Atambua, West Timor

The ragged group of pro-Indonesian militia, armed with spears and knives, were clearly enjoying their task.

Five busloads of East Timorese and Indonesians waited at the border crossing as the militias slowly checked identification cards. Anyone identified as a student was hauled aside and questioned, their possessions thrown on the ground and kicked through.

The floor of the bamboo hut where the questioning took place was covered in black hair. "We cut their hair off - if it is long they look like Falintil," said a laughing paramilitary brandishing scissors, referring to the pro- independence, armed resistance back in East Timor.

These militias, paid by Indonesian authorities, now man roadblocks on the land exits from the former Portuguese territory. They have been told students from Dili are "communists" who will destroy their way of life and cause a war in East Timor. "The East Timorese don't want to work, they just want to fight the Indonesians," said militia member Ben Unu, a student in Atambua, the main border town on the West Timor side. "They are different, you know. They cannot work in offices like us. The Indonesians try to teach them and they just want to fight. They go to Java or Bali to study, they get free houses, they get money to study, much more than us. But they don't mix with anyone else."

"If there is trouble in East Timor there will be trouble here in Atambua because this is where we have to send the army in," he said.

Since Jakarta made its first clandestine moves on East Timor in 1974, Atambua has been a staging point. Statues of Indonesian soldiers brandishing weapons and facing east towards the border line the streets. The town is ringed by military barracks and facilities.

According to a lecturer at Kupang University, in the capital of West Timor, Atambua has once again become a training ground for elements of the Indonesian military to prepare West Timorese to foment unrest across the border.

In a letter sent as a warning to Dili students in February, the lecturer said that, immediately after the January statement by President B.J. Habibie acknowledging the option of East Timorese independence, the Indonesian military had handed over 500 weapons in Atambua to Francisco Tavarres, son of the paramilitary leader Joao Tavarres.

The town is thriving. Its market sells goods not seen across the border for months because of the exodus of Indonesian traders. Hotels are full of families of Indonesian military men sent across for safety from bases in Dili and Baucau.

Local traders say thousands of Javanese and other Indonesian settlers have passed through the border in the past two months, in trucks piled high with possessions, to the small port of Atapupu down on the coast.

It's a town that thrives on war in East Timor. The locals clearly feel the good times are coming back.

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