Subject: DT: Britons trapped by gunfire describe their ordeal in E.Timor
Date: Wed, 8 Sep 1999 10:31:26 EDT

Daily Telegraph [London] Wednesday 8 September 1999

Britons trapped by special police gunfire

By Barbie Dutter

BRITONS who have been working in East Timor told yesterday how they narrowly escaped death after being pinned to the floor of a United Nations compound for two hours as Indonesian special police blasted the building with gunfire.

PHOTO: Exodus: East Timorese flee their homes in the capital, Dili, where militias opposed to independence have instituted a reign of terror

About 50 people cowered inside the compound in Baucau with shots whistling over their heads, according to Major John Petrie, a British military police officer seconded to the UN. For a further hour their attackers circled the compound on motorcycles, brandishing weapons and trapping the UN staff inside.

The increasingly powerless Indonesian government imposed martial law in the territory, saying it would stem the violence unleashed by its own troops and their proxies, the anti-independence militias. Ali Alatas, the foreign minister, said martial law included the authority to search without warrants, a curfew to keep people off the streets and "the shooting on sight of people who go against the curfew".

But it did not prevent bands of militia in Dili setting houses ablaze, firing rocket-propelled grenades and bazookas and shouting through megaphones for those remaining in the city to get out. Witnesses said both militiamen and Indonesian troops loaded people on to lorries and sent them to West Timor, an Indonesian province that shares the island with East Timor.

"I would not say the declaration of martial law has done anything to secure the situation," said a UN information officer in the organisation's besieged compound in Dili where more than 2,500 refugees and local workers are holed up.

Major Petrie gave his dramatic account last night after arriving in Darwin on an emergency Royal Australian Air Force flight. He said he had felt in fear of his life during the attack, which took place a few hours before he and about 120 other people were airlifted to safety.

"We had to get out today. We would have been killed had we stayed. That was their message."

The incident started yesterday morning when a crowd of special police appeared outside and began to fire shots. "We closed all the doors and barred all the windows," the major said.

"Then the shots started coming into the building itself and everybody kept as close to the walls as possible so that shots coming through the windows were going over our heads. If anybody had been standing up or sitting up, they could have been hit. After we'd been there for two hours the Indonesian armed forces provided security around the compound and gave us an escort to the airport.

"There's an orchestrated campaign by a combination of police, militia and the armed forces to force out Unamet [the UN mission] from that area. Their aim was to get rid of us."

Without military intervention, he said, "there will be a lot of people killed".

Det Sgt Rob Walker, of Humberside Police, also arrived in Darwin last night after spending almost three months as a UN liaison officer. But he said the venture had been frustratingly futile.

"The police have got firearms, they have got good training, they have got good backgrounds, and I have seen them stand by while militias have shot at us, thrown stones at us and waved machetes at us. I have been shot at three times and on two of the three occasions there have been police present who witnessed it and have not arrested the person who shot at us."

Sgt Walker said: "The international community should send a military force in as soon as possible, otherwise more and more people will be killed. The whole situation is tragic. I worked for a year in Bosnia, but this is a completely different situation."

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