Subject: SMH: Timor militia attack 'stalled by UN presence'
Date: Sat, 22 May 1999 10:23:41 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Sydney Morning Herald 21/05/99

Timor militia attack 'stalled by UN presence' By MARK DODD in Atsabe, East Timor

United Nations investigators believe that their surprise arrival in this highland town on Wednesday may have stalled plans for a second attack by pro-Indonesian militias.

A UN convoy escorted by heavily armed Indonesian police commandos, intelligence operatives and detectives arrived at 2pm, attempting to investigate an alleged massacre of suspected pro-independence supporters by pro-Indonesian militia.

According to the UN about 60 militiamen had attacked the small coffee-growing hamlet of Atara last Sunday in a pre-dawn raid, killing at least six villagers who were preparing to go to Mass. There are fears the final death toll could be as high as 32.

On its arrival in Atsabe, the convoy was told by local military authorities it was not possible to visit Atara due to security reasons.

Atara lies about 12 kilometres from Atsabe, or 45 minutes by four-wheel-drive in rugged mountain country.

As the UN spokesman for East Timor, Mr David Wimhurst, argued in vain with his Indonesian escort for permission to proceed, he received alarming news.

A staunchly pro-Indonesian militia gang known as Tim-Pancasila, allegedly responsible for the Atara killings, had warned the local army chief in Atsabe that "foreigners" including UN personnel were unwelcome.

"The militia strongly resented the presence of the United Nations and warned our presence was unwelcome," Mr Wimhurst told reporters.

Taking into account the long journey back over rough mountain roads and police concerns about security after nightfall, the convoy, which included a small UN team and several reporters, had no option but to head back to Dili, but not before witnessing first-hand an illegal militia training session.

In a dilapidated barracks owned by the Indonesian "Kommando Militer", 33 militiamen armed with wooden clubs received orders and training, shouting aloud their answers to questions by an instructor dressed in military fatigues.

Atsabe lies in spectacular mountain terrain high in the coffee-growing Ermera highlands some 80 kilometres south-west of Dili.

A district priest, Father Domingo Soares, claimed that militia gangs backed by local army units and a military intelligence group known by its acronym SGI were continuing operations across a swathe of East Timor.

He said their aim was to ensure a "Yes" vote for autonomy within Indonesia - a clear breach of the UN East Timor accords signed on May 5 by Indonesia and former colonial power Portugal.

Mr Wimhurst said the UN was not discouraged by what had happened at Atsabe.

"Whatever intimidation comes our way - whatever threats are made against us, obviously we will consider them very carefully.

"Our security staff will evaluate and assess them and we will take the necessary precautions but we will not be prevented from doing the work to ensure that there is a vote on the 8th of August."

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