There are signs that the security situation in East Timor is deteriorating again, only two days after the historic ballot that saw more than 95 percent of eligible voters go to the polls. Indonesian military-backed militia groups, which kept a low profile on the day of the August 30 vote, have re-emerged, engaging in widespread intimidation, establishing menacing roadblocks throughout the territory, and causing injuries.
There is a profound and pervasive sense of fear as the counting of the ballots begins in Dili. Last night, IFET-OP received reports of militia activity in a number of Dili neighborhoods, including Caicoli, Bidau Massau, Becora, and Camea. Militia members, armed with automatic weapons, circulated throughout these neighborhoods, frequently firing into the air. Although there are no reports of deaths or injuries, the militia activity has had the effect of exacerbating the tense environment in the capital, leading untold numbers of people to go into hiding or to flee to the hills surrounding the city.
Over the last two days, four IFET-OP teams have had to evacuate from the following areas due to the deteriorating security situation: Oecussi; Ermera; Manatuto; and Aileu. What follows are brief accounts of the factors that led to these withdrawals.
In Pante Makassar in the East Timorese enclave of Oecussi (surrounded by West Timor), four members of the IFET-OP team, under the advice of UNAMET civilian police officers, decided to leave in a worsening context of fear. IFET-OP observers described Pante Makassar yesterday as a "virtual ghost town," with few persons venturing outdoors and most businesses remaining closed.
The situation in Oecussi took a turn for the worse on the evening of Friday, 27 August when pro-autonomy and militia forces gathered for a party in Pante Makassar (see IFET-OP Report #7, 28 August 1999). According to a local leader of the FPDK, a pro-autonomy group, 2,500 pro-autonomy and militia persons arrived from other areas of East Timor that evening. A few hours later, militia members began attacking the local office of the pro-independence National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT). After a lull in the violence, militia members resumed their attack and destroyed the CNRT office early the next morning, and then proceeded to rampage throughout the town.
At least three people died as a result of the violence (including a local UNAMET staff person), and at least seven individuals sustained serious injuries. A total of 37 houses were burned, and six ransacked. Upwards of 500 local residents fled to the surrounding areas, and about 200 sought refuge at the main police station.
Upon leaving Pante Makassar yesterday, the IFET-OP encountered two militia roadblocks. At the official checkpoint on the border with West Timor, four paramilitaries, wearing the t-shirts of the local militia group, Sakanur or Scorpion, mingled with Indonesian police officers and military personnel.
In Gleno (district of Ermera), the IFET-OP team withdrew yesterday following a generally successful voting day, but one marred by militia shootings in the middle of the town, and the slaying of a local UNAMET staff person by militia during the evening after the vote. The same evening, armed militia members menaced IFET-OP members in the area of their home. Because of armed paramilitaries patrolling the streets, three IFET-OP team members had to spend the night in the UNAMET compound. In this context, the IFET-OP team decided to evacuate. Along with many other international observers, they joined a UNAMET convoy the next morning returning to Dili to deliver the ballots. But the combination of roadblocks maintained by heavily-armed paramilitaries and the failure of the Indonesian police to take remedial action for several hours, prevented the UNAMET convoy from leaving the town until 5:30pm.
The IFET-OP team in Manatuto evacuated today after receiving warnings from UNAMET personnel. The Dandim (the district military commander) and the local police chief had warned UNAMET that the militia would probably escalate the violence beginning today and take revenge against independence sympathisers and local UNAMET staff. The militias and the military both have publicly blamed local UNAMET staff for pressuring voters to reject autonomy. The military also stated that they could not guarantee the security of the IFET-OP team, as they were no longer able to control the militias. The streets of Manatuto are deserted today as the population fears an impending attack.
Finally, in Aileu, the IFET-OP team left the area Tuesday after militia members fired their weapons and attacked a man at a militia roadblock 50 yards from the IFET-OP house. The militia members struck the man in the back of the head with a machete and kicked him in the face. The paramilitaries paused when IFET-OP observers arrived on the scene, allowing the victim to flee.
The IFET-OP team took the man back to their house and administered first aid. As the police were loading the victim in the car to take him to the hospital, about 20 paramilitaries -- many armed with guns--arrived, intimidating the family with whom the IFET-OP observers were staying. For this reason, the family decided to leave for Dili to stay with friends until the situation calms down. The IFET-OP evacuated shortly thereafter.
The IFET-OP teams have encountered numerous roadblocks as they have returned to Dili. At a roadblock in Liquica, for example, very close to its border with the district of Bobonaro, aggressive militia members armed with machetes, one home-made gun, and one rifle forced the Oecussi team to return to Atabae to get a police escort. Once the team was able to secure a police escort, the team passed again by the post. The militia members threatened the IFET-OP driver (an East Timorese) with harm if he returned.
The team encountered five other roadblocks on the road back to Dili, including one just west of the city's airport. It was striking that the police made no efforts to get the militia members to disband the posts. It appears that the Indonesian authorities have given the militia a free hand.
But perhaps this appearance is deceiving. An East Timorese BRIMOB member privately warned IFET-OP members today that militia members are planning to attack areas of Dili. In doing so, he explained that there is very little that BRIMOB or the police can do to stop the feared attacks given the ties to the Indonesian military the militia groups enjoy.
It is for such reasons that IFET-OP once again calls upon the international community to increase the security mandate of UNAMET. This would include the following:
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