Subject: Safety declared as UN bows to Falintil advice

The Australian 18 October 99

Safety declared as UN bows to Falintil advice

By PAUL TOOHEY in Los Palos

ONLY a week ago, militia in the eastern reaches of East Timor were terrorising thousands of people. But on Saturday, almost half of the territory – the major towns of Baukau, Viqueque, Los Palos and all points between – was declared "green", safe to all citizens and travellers.

The decision was taken not because Interfet had swept through villages and mountains flushing out militia. It was on the advice of the regional Falintil and National Council for East Timorese Resistance (CNRT) operatives that Interfet pronounced the troublemakers a spent force.

Likewise the UN, given the task of creating provisional government in East Timor, has found itself unable to move without checking first with Falintil and the CNRT. At regional meetings, the UN appears to be delegating much responsibility to local authorities and standing back, promising they will be little more than a facilitator of humanitarian services.

There are two reasons for this: the UN has enormous guilt for abandoning the people after the ballot; and it seems as yet uncertain what its powers are.

Last week, UN CivPol was sent to inquire about a murder totally unrelated to events of the referendum. The policeman's powers to investigate, charge and hold the suspect were not defined. The accused will remain under the eye of a village chief, potentially subjected to village retribution.

Meanwhile in a small village outside Los Palos, a potentially dangerous experiment is under way. Four militiamen have been released back to the people.

"I'm going to be monitoring the reintegration of those people in that village," said New Zealand UNAMET Squadron Leader Scott Arrell. "If I perceive they are in any danger, then we'll probably have to take them back into our security."

In Los Palos, Falintil are holding 44 militia. They had been interrogated by Interfet in Dili and released. But Falintil has refused to return the men to their villages, fearing they will be slaughtered. Even though they are technically free men, Falintil's authority in detaining them has not been questioned.

"The best advice we have is through Falintil," said Squadron Leader Arrell. "To go against Falintil's will and forcibly reintegrate them would be folly."

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