Subject: Aitarak (Thorn) militia boss pledges not to disband group

E.Timor militia boss pledges not to disband group

KUPANG, Indonesia, Dec 17 (Reuters) - A pro-Jakarta East Timor militia chief accused the Indonesian government on Friday of abandoning its own supporters, but said he would not disband his group, which is accused of terror in the territory.

``If the Indonesian government believes we have tarnished its image in the international circles, then why did it recognise the militias in East Timor?'' Eurico Guterres, leader of the feared Aitarak (Thorn) militia, told reporters in the West Timor capital of Kupang.

``If Indonesia is not happy with the pro-integration group, we will ask for political asylum,'' he said.

Guterres said he was against last week's decision by Joao da Silva Tavares, head of the main pro-Jakarta Command of the Pro-Integration Struggle, to disband the militia and urge them to return to East Timor. Technically, Tavares is Guterres' boss.

``I was wondering why Tavares disbanded the militia just like that. I will do my best...that the militia won't be disbanded. I just don't know what my mistakes are,'' said Guterres.

Guterres was a key figure in the pro-Jakarta militia movement, and Aitarak, which was based in the East Timor capital of Dili, has been accused of widespread involvement in a campaign of terror before and after the August independence vote.

Most of the militias are still camped in a number of towns near the border dividing the island of Timor.

Separately, lawyers representing Indonesian military officers over alleged human rights abuses said they had been refused permission to travel to East Timor, the official Antara news agency reported.

Lawyer Ruhut Sitompul was quoted as saying U.N.-mandated officials in charge of the territory had refused them permission to enter, on the grounds that witnesses and victims of abuses did not want to meet with them. Sitompul said he regretted the decision not to allow them an entry permit.

The rampage by pro-Jakarta militias, backed by elements of the Indonesia military, ended after Jakarta was forced to allow a U.N.-mandated force into the territory to restore peace.

Guterres told the SCTV television network on Thursday the militias denied responsibility for the violence in East Timor after the vote and blamed then-president B.J. Habibie for allowing the ballot to go ahead.

He said the violence which killed hundreds of people and left the territory in ruins was a spontaneous action by people unhappy with the ballot and its result -- almost 80 percent in favour of ending Jakarta's often brutal 23-year rule.

The U.N.-backed force is overseeing East Timor until a U.N. peacekeeping force takes over early next year in preparation for independence.

The U.N. and Indonesia have both launched their own inquiries into the violence, amid pressure for a war crimes tribunal similar to those on Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

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