Subject: WP: E. Timor Militias Terrorize Those Who Want Independence
Date: Sat, 15 May 1999 11:16:23 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <>

E. Timor Militias Terrorize Those Who Want Independence

By Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, May 10, 1999; Page A15

JAKARTA, Indonesia, May 9—The East Timorese capital of Dili was rocked by violence again today when an anti-independence militia armed with machetes and primitive, locally made rifles attacked a marketplace and was met by pro-independence youths who fought back with stones. One man was reported shot to death and another wounded.

The violence came as a senior U.N. security adviser was in Dili paving the way for an international police force of as many as 300. Many Timorese are counting on the foreign police, who may or may not be armed, to subdue the militias and stop incidents like today's. The trouble began when armed men who identified themselves as members of the Aitarak militia went to the Mercado Lama marketplace where people were gambling and demanded a share of the winnings. Witnesses said area residents, most of whom support independence, began throwing stones at the militia members to drive them away.

Foreign journalists in Dili also were harassed and threatened during the incident. About six Portuguese journalists were surrounded by militia members until they were rescued by Indonesian police officers, who fired shots in the air as a threat. Australian reporters and a television crew were also chased by the militias.

The acting Portuguese consul general here in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, said he called the Foreign Ministry and requested it contact security authorities in Dili and insist that they guarantee the journalists' safety. Portugal is East Timor's former colonial power.

The militias have accused foreign reporters in Dili of siding with the pro-independence movement. But today's incident was one of the few times militia members have attacked journalists.

Indonesia's armed forces created the 13 militia groups ostensibly as an adjunct security force for the troubled territory. But in recent weeks -- as East Timor heads toward an Aug. 8 referendum that could lead to independence -- the militias have waged a campaign of intimidation and murder that human rights groups and diplomats say is aimed at skewing the vote against outright separation.

Militias have harassed and threatened independence supporters and chased many into hiding. They rampaged through Dili on April 17, burning homes and shops, and they are blamed for an April 6 church massacre in Liquica that killed as many as 57 people, many of them women and children.

The signing of a peace agreement on April 21, witnessed by Dili's Bishop Carlos Belo and armed forces commander Gen. Wiranto, was supposed to bring a respite from the violence. In that accord, militias favoring the territory's integration into Indonesia agreed with East Timor's main independence group, the National Council for Timorese Resistance, to lay down their weapons and work for a peaceful settlement of the long-running conflict. But since then, the militias have roamed virtually unchallenged, while the council's officials are in hiding or living in the main police station.

The armed forces have said they will disarm the militias, but said the pro-independence guerrillas in the mountains must also turn in their weapons. The guerrillas generally have observed the cease-fire since December, although their leader, Xanana Gusmao, has called on them to fight to protect local populations.

Last Wednesday at the United Nations, Indonesia signed an agreement with Portugal calling for the referendum to be held in a "secure environment" free of intimidation.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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