Subject: AFP: First UN police officer arrives for mammoth East Timor task
Date: Sat, 15 May 1999 11:11:49 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <>

First UN police officer arrives for mammoth East Timor task

DILI, East Timor, May 9 (AFP) - The first UN police officer of an estimated 300-strong force has arrived in East Timor, but few in the troubled territory expect their presence to guarantee a tension-free autonomy vote.

With just three months until polling day and pro-Indonesian militias controlling events on the ground, no one is overly hopeful the neutral force can ensure a free and fair vote on self-determination.

At an early morning mass Sunday, Dili Bishop Carlos Ximenes Felipe Belo told a congregation at his residence that the UN police were on the way.

"You have a choice, vote according to your conscience," he urged his followers.

If conscience alone dictates the outcome of the vote, East Timor is likely to opt for independence on August 8 after two decades of bloody resistance to the Indonesian occupation.

The military-backed militias, however, seem bent on making the choice -- and the work of the UN officers -- as difficult as possible.

Leading human rights activist Aniceto Guterres Lopes was in hiding somewhere in Dili at the weekend after being threatened by the army-backed militia, and pro-independence activist Leandro Isaac was battling to keep his police protection.

The police have asked Isaac to move to the Liquisa area, a pro-independence stronghold some 50 kilometers (30 miles) down the coast from Dili, saying they do not have the facilities to house him here.

The road from Dili to Liquisa shows the obstacles the UN police are facing. Red and white Indonesian flags fly from houses whose residents whisper that they are being forced to fly them.

Liquisa itself provides bloody testimony to the enormity of the peace-keeping task. It is home to a churchyard where at least 25 refugees were hacked to death last month by the feared pro-Indonesia Besi Merah Putih (Red and White Iron) militia, which still controls the area.

Dan Murphy, an American volunteer doctor running a clinic here, is incensed by the lack of access to the Liquisa area, home to an estimated 1,500 refugees.

"Don't tell me the refugees are staying there voluntarily," he fumed. "They used to come in and out of Dili all the time. Where are they?"

Workers at the Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, a human rights group in Dili chaired by Guterres, also said they were denied access to Liquisa and to Tibar, a nearby village.

Refugees are being "sheltered for their own protection" in Tibar but the area is beyond reach to all except those with military passes.

"It's workable, but it's going to be tough," said Australia's ambassador to Indonesia, John McCarthy, of the UN force's task.

He said another challenge to be surmounted was for the bitterly opposed sides in East Timor to resume church-mediated talks broken off by Bishop Belo after the Liquisa massacre on April 6.

The first UN police officer, Om Rathor, an Indian national and advisor to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on police matters, arrived here Saturday to pave the way for the rest.

Dressed in civilian clothes, he went straight into talks with a group of UN technical advisors in a Dili hotel.

The bulk of the civilian police force is not expected to arrive in East Timor for another two weeks, when the officers will man outposts throughout the jungled hills of the former Portuguese colony.

Their function is expected to be twofold -- advising the Indonesian police and determining whether the security situation will allow the 800,000 people of East Timor to proceed with the August vote.

East Timorese will choose between autonomy under Indonesian rule or outright separation, capping a tortuous 24 years for the territory since it was invaded by Indonesia.

Back to May Menu
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu
June '98 through February '99