Subject: Militia terror groups still infiltrating East Timor: Interfet

Militia terror groups still infiltrating East Timor: Interfet

DILI, East Timor, Oct 21 (AFP) - Terror groups were still infiltrating East Timor Thursday as the multinational forces remained tight-lipped on resistance reports that a militia assault would be launched next week on the isolated enclave of Oekussi.

Over the past 24 hours, several groups of armed militia, up to 20 strong, have been seen by the international peacekeepers (Interfet) in the western regions of East Timor, said Colonel Mark Kelly.

They were chased back over the border by foot patrols supported by light reconnaissance helicopters. No contact was made but gunfire has been heard in the border region, Kelly said.

He said one group came over in trucks while the rest had come on foot.

Kelly said "Operation Strand" comprising 150 soldiers was launched Thursday to step up sweeps on the border area and disarm any militia found.

"This has frustrated the attempt by the militia groups to stay for any lengthy period," said Kelly.

"Their actual reason for coming is anyone's guess, but obviously they want to harrass the local people.

"We want to be there waiting for them," he said.

"We want to avoid any contact with the militia or indeed any harrassment of the refugees as they start to come across the border," he said.

There have been reports that militia are taunting returning refugees, telling them they will seek them out and kill them.

Gunfire was heard in the border where the refugees were crossing on Wednesday, he said.

But Kelly refused to comment on Falintil claims that militia leaders Joao Tavares and Eurico Guterres, with Indonesian armed forces (TNI) assistance, will launch a "cleanup" campaign in Oekussi on Monday.

He gave what has become a standard response -- "I can't comment on operational security matters," and dismissed suggestions that Interfet had been too slow to secure the enclave.

"We get information from a variety of sources and we look into all these reports very closely," he said, adding that air and sea routes into the enclave had been agreed on during consultations with the Indonesian military in Dili.

This would avoid having to go overland through Indonesia-ruled West Timor, which Interfet's mandate prevents.

A statement passed to AFP by the resistance Falintil fighters Wednesday said automatic weapons fire was heard all day in the enclave Wesday as East Timorese fled from the main town of Oekussi to Mount Aman Lalehan.

The Oekussi enclave -- otherwise referred to as Ambeno -- is one of East Timor's 14 districts, but is isolated inside West Timor and some 80 kilomters (50 miles) from the nearest point of the East Timor mainland.

Vice Commander Taur Matan Ruak of the Falintil, the armed wing of the East Timorese pro-independence movement, said about 70 people have been killed in the enclave since October 10 while a UN official said a reconnaissance flight over the region had spotted bodies on the ground.

Reports also continued to filter through about alleged massacre in Oekussi.

Earlier this week Kelly said the Indonesian commander in Dili had assured him the Indonesian armed forces had completely withdrawn from the enclave.

The legacy of a turn-of-the-century tradeoff between the former Dutch and Portuguese rulers of Indonesia and East Timor respectively, the coastal enclave is now in a security vacuum, with neither Interfet nor Indonesian troops stationed there.

In Dili the Indonesian armed forces continued their withdrawal Thursday with just 1,300 men now left in the territory.

"We will probably assume formal responsibility over public utilities such as the telecom building and the power station, when the entire garrison leaves, but at this stage we have no confirmed timetable," Kelly said.

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