Militia violence continues in East Timor

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Militia violence continues in East Timor

By Jon Land

On June 29, while East Timorese pro-independence and pro-integration leaders were finishing reconciliation talks in Jakarta, a pro-integration gang attacked the recently established United Nations Assistance Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) office in the town of Maliana, 60 kilometres west of Dili. Twelve people, including UN personnel, were injured. The incident reflects the dangerous situation which exists throughout East Timor due to the activities of the pro-integration terror gangs.

The assault on the UN office was led by the newly formed Dodarus pro-integration gang, which surrounded the office, pelting it with large rocks. The attack, which pro-integration gang leader Eurico Gutteres called a "spontaneous action", lasted for three hours before Indonesian police intervened to halt it.

East Timorese resistance leader Jose Ramos Horta believes that the attack involved Indonesian thugs, trained by the Indonesian military, from across the border in West Timor. In an interview on the June 30 SBS Dateline program, Horta said the attack "is the responsibility of the Indonesian army ... [it] was carried out mostly by people recruited from West Timor".

At least two serving and three retired Indonesian soldiers were identified as part of the stone-throwing mob. ABC radio journalist Di Martin, who witnessed the attack, stated on the Asia Pacific program on June 30 that the army in Maliana is directly involved in housing and feeding pro-integration gang members.

The UN Security Council and UN secretary-general Kofi Annan have called for an investigation into the incident. A statement released by Annan on June 29 said the Indonesian government is "accountable for allowing such an attack to occur" and deems "any assault on UNAMET personnel or property completely unacceptable".

Indonesian government officials have played down the event and continue to claim that security in East Timor is improving. Foreign affairs ministry spokesperson Sulaiman Abdulmanan told reporters on June 30, "We deplore the small incident, but it should not be exaggerated".

Abdulmanan also repeated the claim of Gutteres and other pro-integration leaders that UNAMET personnel, such as spokesperson David Wimhurst, are biased. "He should be more objective in looking at problems. The statements [by Wimhurst] are usually biased in nature."

The day after the attack in Maliana, seven UN electoral officers in the town of Viqueque where forced to relocate to Dili. Wimhurst told reporters on July 1 that pro-integration gang members surrounded the UNAMET residence there, threatening UN personnel. At one stage, at least 15 armed gang members where present, shouting "UN go home" and "UN has to leave here".

The violence in East Timor is continuing primarily because of the provision in the UN agreement signed by Indonesia, Portugal on May 5 which gives the Indonesian police and military responsibility for maintaining security in the lead up to the August ballot, in which East Timorese will vote in favour of autonomy or independence. Since the signing of the agreement, there has been no evidence that Indonesian authorities have acted to disarm or disband the pro-integration gangs.

There has been no move to de-militarise East Timor. In fact, the complete opposite has happened. Indonesian authorities continue to coordinate closely with the pro-integration gang leaders, even appointing them to head "official" civilian defence units.

Many human rights and solidarity groups are also deeply concerned by the arrival during June of more Indonesian police, elite troops and intelligence officers, in particular the 800-strong Brimob contingent. Brimob, or mobile police, are renowned throughout Indonesia for the brutal way which they "pacify" pro-democracy demonstrations.

It was hoped that the Dare II reconciliation meeting held in Jakarta from June 25-30 would improve the situation in East Timor and help reduce the level of violence. On the eve of the talks, Horta said, "I hope that within Indonesia itself, those in power have the greatest interest of Indonesia in mind [and] honour the New York agreement — in full — so that the reconciliation meeting can also be successful".

The talks were soured by the Maliana attack and the intransigence of the pro-integration leaders, who claimed that the Indonesian offer of autonomy was already a big concession and should be accepted. While there was a commitment by the pro-integration block to reduce the use of violence, similar pledges have been made in the past and broken. A press release on June 30 stated, "Although both sides agreed on the crucial necessity for further dialogue, they were unable to produce a procedure to carry the Dare II talks forward".

The preparations for the August ballot have been hampered by other problems also. UNAMET is spread very thinly on the ground, with the deployment of personnel continuing to be very slow.

Even when the whole UNAMET contingent has arrived, it will be hard pressed to carry out the vital task of voter registration properly. UN personnel are concerned about how successfully they can detect fake identification cards, which are rumoured to be flooding into East Timor.

Then there is the issue of the funding of the mission. The UN General Assembly on June 29 passed a resolution approving the appropriation of $52 million for UNAMET through a process of voluntary contributions. The Trust Fund for the Settlement of the Question of East Timor has so far received $21 million in voluntary contributions.

According to a UN press release on the funding arrangement, the UN representatives for Cuba and Costa Rica expressed reservations about the voluntary contribution process. The Costa Rican representative was concerned that the resolution "did not indicate that voluntary contributions should not be conditioned by donors". The Cuban representative noted that East Timor was "the only United Nations mission to be financed almost solely from voluntary contributions, an arrangement that might set an extremely negative precedent, and it could hold hostage developing countries in the organisation".

Contradicting the real situation in East Timor, the UN special envoy for East Timor, Jamsheed Marker, told reporters on his departure from Jakarta that he was leaving "in a spirit of optimism because I am convinced this process is on track". He referred to the incident at Maliana as an "aberration".

Marker appears to be one of the few who is "convinced" at the moment. While the pro-integration gangs continue to be active and supported by the Indonesian authorities, the violence will continue. Unless there is a concerted international effort to pressure the Indonesian government — by imposing an immediate arms embargo and suspending loans — and unless relief aid is poured into East Timor, there is little hope of a fair and free vote taking place.