3 UN staff killed in West Timor

Mob, suspected to be rogue elements of the Indonesian military, hacked them to death and burnt UNHCR office.

Thousands of refugees and pro-Indonesian militiamen yesterday stormed a United Nations office in West Timor, killing at least three foreign refugee workers in the worst attack on UN personnel since their arrival last year to repatriate East Timorese.

Eyewitnesses in the border town of Atambua, where the incident took place, said the machete-wielding mob hacked the three UN workers to death and burnt down the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees after ransacking it.

The nationalities of the victims were not clear, but senior Indonesian intelligence sources confirmed all of them were foreigners.

The savage attack sparked off a UN rescue operation with helicopters sent – with approval from Indonesian military chief A.S. Widodo – to rescue the remaining 30 UN employees.

Reports said that four helicopters were used for the evacuation six hours after the attack took place in the Indonesian-controlled area.

UNHCR personnel in several other areas were ordered to stand by for possible evacuation, in case the violence spread.

The spotlight has now also shifted to New York, as the Indonesian government braces itself for international condemnation at a UN Millennium Summit that President Abdurrahman Wahid is attending this week.

There has been speculation that rogue elements of the Indonesian military could have sparked off the attack. A one-star general said the immediate reason for the incident appeared to be the killing on Tuesday in the nearby town of Betun of pro-Jakarta militia leader Olivio Moruk.

He was on a government list of 19 suspects – including senior Indonesian military personnel – who were identified as responsible for last year’s mayhem in East Timor after a historic independence vote.

A source here said the attack was instigated by active and retired generals implicated in the East Timor fiasco.

“This is another manifestation of anger by some elements in the military at the civilian government for letting East Timor go.

“They are also angry for having to take the blame for trying to keep East Timor part of Indonesia,” he said.

“They are putting pressure on this government. They are doing everything possible to discredit Gus Dur in the eyes of the international community.”

Analysts said that if that was the aim, the timing of the attack made sense as it coincided with Mr Abdurrahman’s trip to New York, where he could come in for hard questioning over what took place yesterday.

Indeed, criticism has been growing for him to put a stop to the military-sponsored militia activity along the border with East Timor, following the killing of a New Zealand soldier and attacks on UN staff there.

In fact, the UN only resumed aid work among East Timorese refugees in West Timor last week.

Sources said that a high-level delegation, including several military intelligence officials, were dispatched yesterday, soon after the incident.

Posted in Indonesia