Key militia leader arrested in Dili

INTERNATIONAL peacekeepers swept through the East Timor capital of Dili yesterday, cracking down on pro-Jakarta militias – including arresting a key leader of one of the most brutal groups that operated here.

As more than 10 military helicopters hovered over Dili in a five-hour “cordon-and-search” operation, the Australian-led force moved into high gear, storming militia hideouts and making arrests.

The troops, aided at times by residents, tracked down three militiamen in their first “kill” of the day. All were forced to lie down and were searched for weapons before being handed to the Indonesian defence forces (TNI).

The largest raid took place at the local Tropicana Hotel, where Australian soldiers seized six militiamen, one of whom happened to be Mr Caitona da Silva, a platoon commander of the notorious Aitarak group.

Major Chip Henriss-Anderssen, an Australian military spokesman, said the man was a “special case” and would be detained by the UN.

Commenting on yesterday’s successes he said: “We are sending a clear message to the militias. You cannot run, you cannot hide.”

The commander of the UN-sanctioned forces here, Major-General Peter Cosgrove, also declared that his troops had secured several areas in the city. Despite this, some militias continued roaming the streets freely.

Several buildings, including barracks and a radio station, were also reportedly burnt by rogue elements of the departing TNI. The World Food Programme accused them of commandeering two trucks taking supplies to refugees on Thursday. TNI sources told The Straits Times that militias were likely to be active in the next few days, with many coming out of the hills and making their way to Dili.

A senior intelligence officer predicted that problems would “worsen significantly” since many pro-integration militiamen want to exact revenge on the population.

He also claimed that since the forces moved in last week, up to nine militiamen were killed by Australian soldiers in collusion with the pro-independence Falintil militia, and alleged that that six of them were “executed” yesterday in Ainaru, a district west of Dili.

Such accusations about Australia being one-sided have not come just from Indonesians. The Thai deputy commander of the multi-national force, Major-General Songkitti Chakkrabhat has accused Canberra of being aggressive towards pro-Jakarta militias. But Maj-Gen Cosgrove has downplayed such reports.

He added that while there were many Australian soldiers now, soon there would be “more international faces around” as the force is deployed fully for “a protracted peacekeeping operation”.

He also rejected suggestions that he should speed up the deployment of 8,000 to end the crisis, saying that the territory was a “special case”.

“East Timor is no Kosovo,” he said. “We have to see it as a regional issue with its own sensitivities.”

As he outlined the UN’s plan, the TNI moved into its last phase of troop withdrawal. TNI East Timor commander Major-General Kiki Syahnakri said that up to 11,500 troops would have been withdrawn by today.

The remaining 4,500 soldiers would stay on but gradually pull out, leaving only a skeleton staff. Maj-Gen Cosgrove told those leaving that he hoped that “weapons are not available for any pilfering elements”.

He had earlier made his most direct accusation so far about elements of the TNI being involved with the militias, disclosing that Maj-Gen Syahnakri had agreed during their talks that there had his been “interaction” between soldiers and the militia.

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