|Subject: NYTimes: Timor
Peacekeepers Accuse Indonesian Army
The New York Times October 12, 1999
Timor Peacekeepers Accuse Indonesian Army
By PHILIP SHENON
DILI, East Timor -- The U.N.-backed peacekeeping force in East Timor Monday accused the Indonesian army of providing support to an anti-independence militia that fired on peacekeepers over the weekend, raising fears that the army has decided to try openly to sabotage the peacekeeping operation.
The Australian general in charge of the 15-nation peacekeeping mission, Maj. Gen. Peter Cosgrove, described the militia attack as "alarming" and "an act of villainy." He expressed suspicions that Indonesian soldiers and police officers joined the militia members in firing on the Australian peacekeepers with assault rifles on Sunday.
"I can't let people come into East Timor to shoot up my soldiers -- we didn't shoot first," he said in an interview in Dili, East Timor's capital, which was left in ruins by the army-supported militias after a referendum in August in which East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia.
At the very least, Australian military officials said, uniformed Indonesian soldiers and police officers were escorting the militia on Sunday and did nothing as the militia members opened fire on the peacekeeping troops in a village along the northern coast of East Timor, about 800 yards from the border with the Indonesian-controlled western half of the island.
While the Australian vehicles were struck by bullets, there were no casualties among the Australian soldiers. Australian military spokesmen said it appeared that two of the militia members might have been wounded in the attack, although that could not be confirmed since the militia rushed back across the border into West Timor. Indonesia contended that an Indonesian police officer had also been killed.
The attack occurred less than a week after two Australian soldiers were seriously wounded in a separate gun battle with the militias. It has alarmed peacekeeping commanders since Indonesia had agreed to allow the peacekeeping force in East Timor. Open exchanges of fire between Indonesian troops and peacekeepers would create both a military and a diplomatic crisis.
The ties between the Indonesian military and the militias are well known. Many of the militias were in fact established by the Indonesian army over the 24 years since Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese colony. Western diplomats and U.N. observers have contended that the army directed the militia's rampage across East Timor after the August referendum.
"This was either brazen or foolhardy," Cosgrove said of the actions of the Indonesian soldiers and police officers who accompanied the militia group on Sunday. "I hope that this was an isolated incident."
He said he had asked for a formal explanation from the Indonesian army -- "It was between asking and demanding" -- of whether Indonesian soldiers or police officers had fired some of the shots. "I put it to them: Who shot at my soldiers?" he said. "This was a totally senseless act."
Asked whether he feared a larger confrontation between Indonesian troops and the peacekeeping soldiers, he replied, alluding to dealing with the Indonesian military, "Not if we manage this properly."
The Indonesian government initially said that the Australian soldiers had crossed illegally into West Timor, and that that may have prompted the firefight.
An Australian military spokesman here said Monday that Indonesian government maps and satellite navigation equipment proved that the attack had occurred in East Timor, in a border area where the Australian soldiers have been clearing away brush. "It was well and truly inside East Timor," said Col. Mark Kelly, chief of staff of the peacekeeping operation.
While the peacekeeping soldiers struggled Monday with a possible increase in violence by the militias, the international effort to rebuild the territory after the violence and looting of the militias has yet to begin in earnest.
Aid groups have been providing emergency food and other services. But East Timor's most important religious leader, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Dili, said Monday that he had so far received no contributions of money from abroad to begin the reconstruction of East Timor's capital. Few buildings were left intact here, and thousands of people have taken to living on streets choked with rubble.
The bishop, Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, the co-winner of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize, said the Catholic Church had no money whatsoever to help its parishioners to re-establish some semblance of a municipal government -- "zero dollars."
While foreign leaders and charitable groups have promised to help pay for the reconstruction of the territory, "so far it's just been blah-blah-blah," said Belo. "We've received nothing." The bishop's own seaside home was looted and then burned down by the militias early last month. He is living in a small guest house near the charred remains of his residence.
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