Thu, 04 Mar 1999

E. Timorese groups trade blame for exodus

JAKARTA (JP): The pro-integration East Timorese calling themselves Besi Merah Putih (Red and White Iron) denied on Wednesday intimidating hundreds of Maubara residents in Liquica regency into fleeing their town.

Coordinator of the group Manuel Sousa claimed the exodus of 300 Maubara residents from the regency, which is 38 kilometers west of Dili, was in fact triggered by the terror launched by members of the pro-independence group, Falintil.

He was quoted by Antara as saying Falintil has been threatening to kill Maubara residents who want East Timor to remain part of Indonesia.

"On the contrary, the people of Maubara have sought protection from us because they want East Timor to remain a part of Indonesia since they have enjoyed the results of the government's development programs," he said.

Since Sunday, waves of people have fled Maubara to take refuge in primary schools, a Dutch colonial building and people's homes in various other areas.

Some 97 Maubara residents have also reportedly taken refuge in Atabae subdistrict, Bobonaro district, some 138 km west of the East Timorese capital of Dili, staying in local government offices, elementary schools and people's homes.

Sousa claimed that in Maubara people who support integration are being intimidated by Falintil.

East Timor, a Portuguese colony for 400 years, became part of Indonesia in 1976 following the issuance of the Balibo Declaration a year earlier.

The integration however has not been recognized by the United Nations, which continues to recognize Portugal as the administering power in the troubled territory.

Indonesia and Portugal under the auspices of the UN Secretary -General Kofi Annan have been discussing a lasting settlement to the East Timor question.

Jakarta has so far offered two options in order to settle the issue -- a UN-backed wide-ranging autonomy for the province or separation from Indonesia if the proposal for autonomy is rejected.

The offer has caused tensions to grow between those wanting to remain with Indonesia and those wanting a separation. In some cases, these tensions have degenerated into clashes as both groups have access to weapons.

In a related development, Antara reported that Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy has expressed support for East Timorese anti-integrationist leader Jose Alexander "Xanana" Gusmao's proposal for a peacekeeping commission in East Timor while the territory decides on its status.

The commission will be a forum for pro-integration and pro- independence groups as well as the Indonesian government in eliminating tension in the province, Axworthy said in a press release.

He said the process of disarming all parties in East Timor, including the militia, should begin soon.