More terror in East Timor

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More terror in East Timor

By Jon Land

DILI — Two truck loads of paramilitary gang members careered up and down the street, waving their rifles and spears in the air and doing everything they could to frighten the population out and about on their business. There were 40-50 gang members in the truck.

There were reports of paramilitary trucks patrolling in other parts of the town as well. People were frightened, and many moved out of their houses on the streets. Our inn emptied of both its staff and guests, as people sought a safer residence. Community and political leaders also moved houses, planning to spend the night in more anonymous places than their known homes.

The fear was real because word had already reached Dili that 50 people, possibly up to 70, had been killed in the town of Liquica, about 35 kilometres west of Dili, three days earlier, on April 5. Members of the pro-integration paramilitary group, Besi Merah Putih, had attacked people in the streets of Liquica with spears, machetes and bows and arrows. Reports circulating in Dili say that 17 people were killed.

In the evening of April 6, an even worse attack occurred. Townspeople sheltering in the local church were also attacked. A tear gas grenade was thrown into the church and people were shot and hacked at as they fled in terror. Reports of those killed range between 25 and 50.

Liquica is now deserted. Thousands of refugees have fled to the nearby Ermera district.

There are more and more reports confirming that the Indonesian military supported the action, including from the priest in the church. Security forces have refused everybody access to the site, except Bishop Belo.

The increase in activity by the paramilitary gangs, including in Baucau, Liquica and Maliana, is not the only reason for the concern expressed by many Timorese here in Dili. Over the last few days, between 1200 and 1300 more Indonesian troops landed. The ships also unloaded a large number of containers, giving rise to speculation that the military may be hoarding arms and ammunition for future supply to the paramilitary gangs.

The patience of the people of East Timor is wearing thin. Why is it, many ask, that the UN and Western nations do not place more pressure on the Indonesian government and force it to withdraw troops and disarm the paramilitary gangs?