Tue, 25 Feb 2003

TNI promises tighter border security after militia attack

Yemris Fointuna and Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post Jakarta/Kuala Lumpur

The military commander overseeing the West Timor province promised tighter security along its border with East Timor where one person died on Monday in an attack allegedly staged by pro Jakarta militia who crossed the border to West Timor.

East Nusa Tenggara military chief Col. Moeswarno Moesanip said the Indonesian military (TNI) would not allow West Timor to become a base for militia activities.

"We don't want them here and surely don't want to facilitate their activities," Moeswarno said, adding "we will tighten security."

He said he had at his disposal two battalions, which would amount to 2,000 soldiers.

The East Timor government planned to hold an emergency meeting after an armed group attacked a bus in a rural area southeast of the capital Dili on Monday, AFP reported quoting the Lusa news agency.

At least one died and three people sustained injuries. The bus, carrying at least 10 passengers, was ambushed near the town of Ribeira de Loes.

The attack came just a day after deputy commander of the United Nations peace keeping force, Brig. Gen. Justin Kelly said pro-Indonesia militias had launched a "terrorist strategy" to destabilize East Timor.

Last month five civilians were killed in an attack in East Timor, which eyewitnesses said was carried out by pro-Indonesia militias.

The militias, backed by members of the Indonesian military, burnt destroyed the country and killed hundreds of East Timorese when the population overwhelmingly voted for independence in a UN sponsored poll in 1999.

Thousands were forced to flee to West Timor, most of whom returned, but many militia members remain in West Timor, as some fear prosecution if they return. Indonesia has made no effort to bring to justice the thousands of militia fighters, even though some of the leaders have been tried in a human rights trial.

Kelly is now warning of infiltration from a group of militia members, launching attacks from across the border in Indonesia.

But East Timor stopped short of accusing the Indonesian government of backing the militias. The Australian government, which has UN peacekeepers in East Timor, dismissed suspicion that TNI was supporting the militias.

Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda responded with frustration to the latest attack and accusations. "I am tired of dealing with similar accusations over and over again," Hassan said in Kuala Lumpur.

He said he recently met his East Timor counterpart Jose Ramos Horta who said nothing about the militia problems.

Hassan said the attacks were simply riots among the East Timorese suffering from years of economic problems.

Unemployment remains widespread and the country continues to rely on foreign aid three and a half years since it won the independence vote.

"Without evidence and facts, accusations of militias operating in West Timor are simply false," he said.

He said that among the around 220,000 refugees who returned to East Timor, 8,000 were former militia members.

"If these people now stir problems in East Timor, that's their problem," he said.