Subject: AP: Clashes Kill Six in E.Timor; Militias Threaten "Sea of Fire"
Date: Fri, 27 Aug 1999 01:48:39 EDT

The Associated Press 08-27-99

Clashes Kill Six in East Timor


DILI, Indonesia (AP) - Promising a ``sea of fire'' if residents choose sovereignty, anti-independence militiamen stormed through East Timor's capital on Thursday, leaving six people dead and raising fears that next week's vote will be crippled by violence.

At least two people were killed when militiamen fired at rock-throwing separatists, witnesses said. Another person was shot to death by Indonesian police, who witnesses said did little to stop the militiamen. After one attack, police were even seen shaking hands with militia members.

Authorities said Friday that three others had died from violence Thursday, while many more were suffering from stab wounds or bruises.

Dili was quiet on Friday. Many shops and offices were closed and most residents stayed off the streets.

On Thursday, frightened residents of this Indonesian provincial capital stayed indoors while gangs of militiamen brandished assault rifles, homemade shotguns and other weapons, ignoring riot police and a ban on carrying weapons.

The violence erupted just four days before an Aug. 30 referendum offering East Timor's 800,000 people a choice between independence and remaining part of Indonesia as an autonomous province.

Eurico Guterres, leader of a militia group in Dili, warned of ``massive fighting'' if his side lost. ``It will become a sea of fire,'' he told 15,000 people Thursday at a raucous anti-independence rally in Dili's main sports stadium.

The United Nations has already twice postponed the ballot because of violence in the former Portuguese colony. But both Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the Security Council said the U.N.-supervised ballot would go ahead as scheduled on Monday and demanded that Indonesia ensure security and bring those responsible for violence to justice.

``The secretary-general is determined that the United Nations should fulfill its responsibilities to the people of East Timor and should not be deterred by threats and intimidation from lawless elements,'' deputy spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said.

But the violence in Dili was unsettling to U.S. officials.

``Recent unrest raises questions as to the ability of the people to vote in an environment that is fair and free of intimidation,'' said deputy State Department spokesman James B. Foley.

After the rally in Dili, militiamen fired at rival activists in the eastern part of the city Thursday. Indonesian police sealed off streets as truckloads of militiamen spread across the city.

Two offices of the main pro-independence group were trashed and several houses were set afire. Militiamen also invaded a hotel used by foreign journalists and observers. A Reuters photographer was shot in the leg during one melee.

In Lisbon, exiled East Timorese Nobel laureate Jose Ramos-Horta called Thursday's violence ``a provocation, an act of desperation'' by the Indonesian military because they realized the autonomy proposal will be defeated.

Under the U.N.-brokered agreement authorizing the ballot, Indonesia is responsible for maintaining security in East Timor, and U.N. officials have repeatedly pressed the Jakarta government to bring the militias under control.

Jakarta has rejected proposals to send in armed U.N. peacekeepers, allowing only unarmed monitors.

``Indonesia is fully determined to ensure security'' in the territory, Indonesia's negotiator for East Timor, Nugroho Wisnumurti, told a news conference in Lisbon following a meeting with U.N. officials.

The U.N. Security Council on Friday is expected to sharply increase the U.N. mission in East Timor, raising the number of international police from 280 to 410.

In Jakarta, Indonesian President B.J. Habibie said East Timorese rebel leader Jose Alexandre ``Xanana'' Gusmao will be freed around Sept. 15.

Gusmao, who is under house arrest in Jakarta, is revered by many East Timorese and is widely expected to become the province's president if it gains independence.

Earlier Thursday, U.N. officials chaired a secret meeting between the commander of East Timor's separatist rebels, Taur Matan Ruak and the local Indonesian military chief, Col. Noer Muis. No details of their talks were released.

The rebels and the Indonesian army have fought a bloody war of attrition in East Timor's rugged mountains since Indonesia annexed the territory in 1976.

An agreement to end the fighting reached May 5 stipulates that if voters reject autonomy, the United Nations would negotiate with Indonesia and Portugal to arrange a ``peaceful and orderly'' transfer of authority in East Timor to the world body. The United Nations would then launch a transition process to give East Timor full independence.

If voters choose to remain part of Indonesia, the United Nations would determine an ``adequate'' presence in the territory and would select a Transitional Council of East Timorese to establish an autonomous relationship with Jakarta.

AP-NY-08-27-99 0005EDT

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