Militias vow to shoot Aussie soldiers

6,000 exiled East Timorese are being drilled in the basics in combat and guerilla warfare, with special emphasis on targeting Australian troops.

PRO-INDONESIAN militias vowing a guerilla campaign in East Timor have only one target in their sights: Australian soldiers. A three-day visit by The Sunday Times to a number of militia training camps near border areas between East and West Timor, the first by any foreign or local media to such sites, revealed potential guerilla fighters being indoctrinated and trained for the bloody task.

Some 6,000 exiled East Timorese were being drilled in the basics in combat and guerilla warfare, with special emphasis on identifying Australian troops by their uniforms and methods of operation.

Captain Domingos Pereira, a company commander of the notorious Aitarak militia, which observers believe wrought much of East Timor’s destruction several weeks ago after the territory voted for independence, said that cross-border incursions and sporadic attacks against 4,500 Australian soldiers there would step up after a month or two.

“We don’t have a chance in a conventional war,” he told The Sunday Times while overseeing some 730 militia members of the Aitarak battalion undergo physical fitness training at a secluded land near a Catholic cemetery hidden by trees and shrubbery.

“But we can make it very painful for them in a guerilla war. The Australians must die for what they have done to my men and their families.

“The Australians are siding openly with our enemies, the Falintil, and are killing our people in East Timor. They have torn us away from our homeland. They have destroyed our lives.”

Indonesian intelligence sources said that militiamen were now organised along conventional military lines into six battalions under the banner of pro-integration forces (PPI).

Two battalions of 1,400 men had entered the United Nations controlled sector of East Timor, elements of which were believed to be responsible for Wednesday’s “sneak attack” on Australian soldiers near the town of Suai, 15 km from the border with West Timor.

Two militia fighters were shot dead and two Australian servicemen were injured in the first clashes since international peacekeepers arrived three weeks ago.

Such confrontations could intensify in the coming months with four militia battalions receiving basic and advanced military training in at least four sites in a 200 km stretch from the East Timor border.

About 450 East Timor soldiers who had defected from the Indonesian armed forces (TNI) after it had pulled out from the territory last month were taking the lead in providing training.

They had also brought along with them their M-16 rifles that were now stored in warehouses together with the advanced Special Forces (Kopassus) Aka weapon and a motley collection of World War II types such as the SKS, G3, SP and Moser. Cpt Pereira said the PPI was expected to get newer rifles and uniforms bearing a red beret, but he remained tight-lipped on the source of supply.

The militia’s threat to strike against Australian soldiers takes place against a background of worsening ties between Jakarta and Canberra where defence and trade ties have soured in the last month as a result of the East Timor debacle.

The Australian government had accused the TNI of supporting and arming the militias.

The Indonesians, on the other hand, charged that Canberra was backing the pro-independence Falintil militia in East Timor openly and carrying out covert activities in the area.

TNI sources here said the activities of Australians – the government, media and business – in the region were being monitored closely from the West Timor city of Kupang by Kopassus officers, several of whom had flown in from Jakarta in the past week.

Said an Indonesian intelligence operative in West Timor: “The Australians are watching us. But we are also watching them closely.”

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