West Timor rampage leaves over 20 dead

Some of the dead are believed to be foreigners; the President says the attack was timed to embarrass him.

More than 20 people were killed and scores of others injured in another bloody round of militia violence in West Timor as the United Nations began an emergency evacuation of local and foreign aid workers in the area.

Just days after three UN staff members were savagely killed in the border town of Atambua, military sources here said marauding gangs of pro-Jakarta militia went on a rampage in Betun and other nearby villages, hunting down West Timorese and refugees from East Timor.

A two-star army general, corroborating reports from UN officials in the area, told The Straits Times there were unconfirmed intelligence reports that some victims could have been foreigners caught in the crossfire.

“There is a systematic killing of people going on in West Timor now by these militias backed by powerful people in Jakarta to stir up further anti-Gus Dur sentiments, and more will continue,” he said.

In New York, President Abdurrahman Wahid hit out at unnamed enemies for plotting the violence to humiliate him. He told Indonesian reporters travelling with him that the timing of the attack had been chosen to coincide with his trip to the United Nations Millennium Summit.

“The timing was precisely selected … to embarrass me,” he told reporters.

In separate meetings, he received an earful from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, US President Bill Clinton and his Secretary of State Madeline Albright for failing to control the military-backed militias in West Timor.

But diplomatic sources said that, despite pressure being levelled on him, it was unlikely that foreign leaders would do anything that could erode his political standing in Indonesia further.

Reflecting the sentiments of several other countries at the summit, a Western diplomat said: “Gus Dur is the best friend we can have now in Indonesia … If we pressure him too much it could weaken his position internally.

“But if we let him off the hook, then it won’t solve the problem. We will have to find some sort of a balance.”

But the latest reported killings in Betun will, if anything, only harden the international community towards Indonesia, especially as foreigners are among the dead.

Gus Dur has already ordered his generals to send more troops into West Timor and make several arrests to appease the West.

The authorities in West Timor said they had picked up 15 suspects in connection with the attack on a UN office in Atambua. But questions remain as to whether the Indonesian armed forces (TNI) are willing to do his bidding, especially in disarming the pro-integration militias led by Eurico Gutteres, who is on the wanted list of Western governments for the recent murders.

The Straits Times understands that a meeting between several generals here yesterday led to a stalemate between one group, which wanted the army to impose a state of emergency in West Timor, and another, led by army chief Tyasno Sudarto, which sought to downplay the matter for reasons that were unclear.

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