- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2000

BATUGADE, East Timor A year after peacekeepers first landed in East Timor, terror from armed militias threatens U.N.-led efforts to turn it into the world's newest independent nation.

High-level Indonesian military officers say they do not control neighboring West Timor, which has become a haven for the militias who have begun to raid the eastern half of the tiny Pacific island now under U.N. control.

"If the people don't feel secure, the process of running a transitional administration will not be successful," East Timor's independence leader Xanana Gusmao told reporters in the capital, Dili.

One diplomat called West Timor a "bandit country" that is only nominally under Jakarta's rule.

Three foreign workers for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees were murdered on Sept. 6 when a militia mob stormed their office in West Timor, about 19 miles from East Timor's northern border point at Batugade.

The murders sparked international outrage and prompted another call from the U.N. Security Council for Indonesia to disband the militias.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, during a visit to Jakarta this week, warned that Indonesia could lose international aid if it fails to curb the militias, which are closely linked and in some cases armed by Indonesian troops.

Indonesia has set out a timetable for disarming the militia, an effort it says will rely more on persuasion than force. But it has rejected a Security Council mission to Jakarta to discuss the crisis.

Lt. Simon Mouatt's U.N. peacekeeping patrol recently exchanged fire with militiamen waiting in ambush on the other side of the border. His troops had stopped for the night in tall grassland along the border when a gunshot sounded in the distance. Then came another, even closer.

Lt. Mouatt and his team saw two armed militiamen moving toward them.

"We warned them many, many times to put their weapons down," the Australian soldier said.

Both sides exchanged fire. The militiamen tossed grenades. Seconds later, it was over.

One militiaman was shot in the leg but fled back toward the border with Indonesian West Timor, the base from which the pro-Indonesian forces have increasingly activated incursions into the fledgling nation of East Timor.

"High-level Indonesian military officers admit that they do not control West Timor. It's just bandit country," a diplomatic source said. "Basically, the militia are doing whatever they … well please."

Peacekeepers first landed in East Timor on Sept. 20, 1999, to stop a militia campaign of murder, destruction and forced deportation. A year later, the militia threat is back, East Timorese officials say.

Since the beginning of August, U.N. forces have been on heightened alert that could continue until the end of September, a U.N. spokesman said.

More than 3,000 soldiers, mainly from Australia, along the frontier and in the mountains south of Dili, have been patrolling more often, supported by the arrival of four Black Hawk troop-carrying helicopters from Australia, Lt. Col. Brynjar Nymo said in Dili.

The soldiers are tracking up to 10 separate militia groups totaling about 120 people, said Col. Nymo, spokesman for the peacekeepers.

"I would say this is probably the largest influx of militia that we know of since Interfet came in," Col. Nymo said.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission took over in February from Interfet, the Australian-led International Force East Timor, which arrived to restore order after what U.N. officials and Indonesian human rights investigators said was a militia terror campaign orchestrated by the Indonesian military and police.

They say Indonesian security forces created the militias to terrorize the population ahead of and after the Aug. 30, 1999, ballot in which East Timorese voted overwhelmingly to separate from Indonesia.

More than 1,000 East Timorese are believed to have been murdered last year and nearly 300,000 were forcibly expelled to Indonesian West Timor.

More than 100,000 refugees remain in West Timor camps that are controlled by militias.

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