Militias forcibly moving E. Timorese

PRO-JAKARTA militias, working openly with the Indonesian military, are forcibly moving thousands of people out of East Timor, where anarchy has intensified and main city streets now look like a war zone.

Just days after nearly 80 per cent of East Timorese voted for independence, the territory was experiencing increasing violence as mobs, wielding machetes and guns, ruled the streets.

Jakarta had yet to offer a clear or convincing explanation as to why the violence was continuing unabated.

National police chief Roesmanhadi acknowledged that the situation was out of control.

Concerns about the volatile situation prompted Australia to announce yesterday that its troops had been placed on heightened alert to be ready to go to East Timor within 24 hours.

Separately, the International Committee of the Red Cross said from Geneva that it believed there remained no safe haven from the militias.

Australian-based activists and others cited evacuees as saying that they saw severed heads on sticks lining some roads. As many as 200 people may have been killed since the vote results were announced on Saturday.

The compound of the United Nations Mission in East Timor (Unamet) was under siege and crowded with refugees. Water and electricity had also been cut off in some parts of the city.

Diplomatic and UN officials said the situation could worsen as there was no evidence yet that Jakarta was about to intervene decisively.

They said there were increasing indications that the Indonesia’s Defence Forces (TNI) was in cahoots with pro-integration militias.

Unamet spokesman David Wimhurst, who remains in Dili, was quoted by Reuters as saying: “There is an operation currently underway of forced population movement. TNI and the militiamen are trucking them out to West Timor. We’re sure it is not small numbers. This is a big operation.”

Unamet chief Ian Martin said in a statement last night that he would not dismiss the possibility of pulling out all remaining staff “if the security situation made it completely irresponsible to stay”.

The international community, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright included, has warned to Jakarta to deal with the violence or allow foreign intervention.

In some of the most glaring examples of disregard seen in Dili yesterday, militias attacked the residence of Nobel laureate Bishop Carlos Belo and set his house on fire, and also shot at Australian Ambassador John McCarthy.

Bishop Belo was evacuated to Bacau, 115 km away, but 6,000 people taking refuge in the compound of his house and others at the Red Cross compound were not so lucky.

They were marched at gunpoint and loaded forcibly onto trucks by armed militiamen and soldiers.

Church and pro-independence sources said they were likely to be loaded onto navy vessels in Dili harbour, probably headed for West Timor.

As terror stalked the streets of Dili, TNI chief General Wiranto announced that more than 4,000 troops would be sent to East Timor, and said he favoured placing the territory under special emergency status “so there is authority for security forces to act without any hesitation”.

President B.J. Habibie, fighting off another political catastrophe, told reporters yesterday after a parliamentary hearing that no one should forget that despite the violence, “the election was a great achievement”.

But his political adversary and presidential aspirant Megawati Sukarnoputri thought otherwise.

She held him responsible for the escalating violence, and yesterday criticised what she saw as Jakarta’s “bifocal policy”, where “on the one hand it offered a referendum, which appears to be a democratic policy, while on the other hand it exerted efforts to retain East Timor as part of Indonesia”.

Unamet reports

‘There is an operation currently underway of forced population movement. TNI and the militiamen are trucking them out to West Timor. We’re sure it is not small numbers. This is a big operation.’
– Unamet spokesman David Wimhurst, who remains in Dili

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