Subject: Land mines pose threat to Timor peace troops

Sydney Morning Herald 14/12/99

Land mines threat to peace troops

By MARK DODD, Herald Correspondent in Dili

The Indonesian army has placed land mine warning signs on its side of the West Timor border, raising concerns for international peacekeeping troops in East Timor.

Of particular concern is the possibility that pro-Jakarta militia based just across the West Timor border may attempt to plant land mines in East Timor as a low cost and, to the militia, a low threat, means of continuing a faltering insurgency.

Lieutenant-Colonel Mark Kelly, senior Interfet spokesman in Dili, said the international force was taking the signs seriously.

"It's an unusual step and one which we've asked clarification of," he said.

"It is quite unprecedented. We take the signs indicating the presence of mines very seriously and we're maintaining a high degree of vigilance."

The signs indicated that the mines, if they were in fact planted, were on the Indonesian side of the border.

He said there was no evidence so far that the militia were holding any stocks of mines, based on earlier seizures of militia weapons caches in East Timor.

Journalists and aid workers who have visited West Timor in the past four days have, however, seen militiamen carrying modern automatic weapons.

Australian and New Zealand troops, including special forces units, deployed in force along the western border have so far thwarted attempts by the militia to infiltrate their lines.

Earlier clashes sparked threats from Jakarta to strengthen border security. Since September 20, when Interfet moved into East Timor, five militia and one Indonesian police officer have been shot dead by Interfet troops.

The recent appearance of the land mine warning signs, written in English, and placed at Motaain on the western border and the Oecussi enclave has raised the possibility of a new threat to Interfet.

"It's their side of the border. We do take precautions to make sure we don't go near those areas," said another Interfet spokesman, Major Mark Tanzer.

In an interview with the Herald last week, Interfet's commander, Major-General Peter Cosgrove, warned against any use of land mines in East Timor.

"There's potential for all forms of military mayhem or violent mayhem but I believe that would be extremely counter productive," he said.

There was also little to stop the militia removing mines planted by the Indonesians and replanting them across the border where they would serve their purpose well as "silent sentinels".

General Cosgrove said that any use of land mines in East Timor would bring international focus on their origin and supplier.

" I believe that sourcing the mines would be a very, very fraught political issue. It would really cause an international hue and cry of huge dimensions. The whole international community is extremely sensitive to the proliferation of land mines.

"Very large numbers of countries are signatories to the Ottawa Convention, as is Australia."


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