Subject: Troops entering Maliana hear reports of massacres

Troops entering Maliana hear reports of massacres

MALIANA, East Timor, Oct 6 (AFP) - The few people who greeted the first international peacekeepers to arrive in this devastated and deserted town, on Wednesday recounted tales of terror, massacres and forced deportations.

Some of the 15,000 population were killed on the spot, many others were forced to go to West Timor, where some were reportedly killed, and the remainder fled to find refuge in the neighbouring hills, residents told AFP.

Every night, they said, the TNI (Indonesian armed forces) and pro-Jakarta militias gathered people in the police station, blindfolded them, then killed them, either by shooting, or with knives.

There were at least 200 killings of the sort, the residents said. They started on September 8, after some 500 Indonesian police, soldiers and militia members had carried out an investigation into which of the town's residents had voted for independence in the August 30 ballot.

Paulo Maya, 38, said he saw 20 people being killed in the city stadium. They ranged in age from seven to 40.

Many were deported to West Timor and slaughtered there, said some of the people who emerged from the hills to greet the Australian peacekeepers on their arrival from their base at Balibo, west of here.

Asked how they knew the deportees had been killed, one replied: "Because refugees came back from West Timor and said they (the deportees) were killed as soon as they arrived there in trucks."

Queried also about the absence of bodies in either the stadium or the police station, where they said the killings allegedly took place, always at night, they said the bodies too were taken by truck over the border.

Said Oliviu Reis Mendoza: "It was a reign of terror." He said he lost two brothers, Barbos Suares, 20 and Domingus Pereira, 37.

Paulo Maya said he lost his father and mother in the killings, while Humberto Alves, 34, said his mother, father wife and three children were deported across the border.

UN officials, baffled by the tens of thousands of missing from East Timor's depopulated towns since last month's savage militia rampage, have no idea how many people are hiding in the mountains outside them.

In Dili, the capital, only some 40 bodies have been found so far, some of them dismembered, leading many to doubt reports of large-scale massacres.

The official population of East Timor, according to official Indonesian figures cities, was around 850,000 last year.

But starting in January, tens of thousands of Indonesian merchants, civil servants and settlers started pouring out of the territory heading home in fear of bloodshed if the territory voted for independence.

An estimated 250,000 people are in West Timor refugee camps, many taken there against their will.

And in Dili, the Red Cross estimates some 64,000 of the population have returned since the peacekeepers arrived on September 20.

When the peacekeepers reached Maliana, one of the worst destroyed towns, with almost all the houses and buildings burned and looted, a dozen Falintil resistance fighters were among those who came down from the hills to greet them. They carried no weapons.

Many of the people who turned out to greet the Australian troops waved banners and flags and gave clenched fist salutes as they cried "Freedom or death -- viva East Timor."

"We're very, very happy today," said 25-year-old Anakleto Moris. "We've struggled for peace and independence for 25 years in East Timor. Now that Interfet has come to Maliana, I believe we'll get it."

Manuel Maya, 45, said he believed the arrival of the Australians would encourage people to come out of hiding.

"I think things will get better now. The word will spread and many, many people will come down from the hills."

But the joy was mixed with regret that the peacekeepers had taken so long to reach them.

"I've been sleeping in the hills but now I feel safe because the soldiers have come," said 23-year-old Luciu Americu. "I don't know why it's taken them so long to get here. There haven't been any militia here since September 22."

The relative ease with which journalists reached the town earlier this week has led to criticism that the Australian-led peace force has been too slow in securing outlying areas.

More than 1,000 Australian troops have been based at Balibo since Thursday.


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