Mr Gusmao wants the UN to disarm thousands of unruly Timorese militiamen who have been armed by Indonesian troops. "The international community has only made promises of assistance [to East Timor] which were not concrete," Mr Gusmao's lawyer and de facto spokesman, Johnson Panjaitan, said in Jakarta. "He [Mr Gusmao] is hoping for a more pro-active stance, including UN peacekeeping troops."
Mr Gusmao was stung into action by the killing of four people on Monday by pro-Jakarta militiamen, the latest in a series of atrocities. His declaration of war was aimed mainly at the militias, although Mr Panjaitan said Indonesian troops could also be attacked by pro-independence guerrillas. "They will defend the people and carry out attacks against the army and the armed civilians."
If the UN peacekeepers are sent, Mr Gusmao said he would call off the war. But Western governments are preoccupied with Kosovo, and the United States and Australia have already urged the 800,000 people of East Timor not to take up arms. "It's very worrying. We're still trying to find out what the situation on the ground is," said one Western diplomat.
On Tuesday, troops and militiamen were reported to be patrolling the western district of Liquica where the killings took place. Rui Viana, of the local human rights group HAK, said he had heard that 3,000 people had fled the area.
The road from the East Timor capital, Dili, was blocked and there were unconfirmed reports that troops were shooting at cars to make them turn back. Dili itself, a sleepy port fringed with palm trees, was reported to be quiet.
The East Timorese, bloodily ruled by Indonesia since 1975, were due to decide in July between autonomy and outright independence. A minority of East Timorese, mostly local officials, favour autonomy. East Timor was previously ruled by Portugal until the colonial administration's departure in 1975.
Mr Gusmao has been trying to persuade his own side that the UN talks do offer a peaceful route to independence. But he has been under growing pressure to let the 700 guerrillas of Falintil, the armed wing of the independence movement, take on the militias. "It's about his credibility," said another Western diplomat who follows East Timor closely.
The guerrillas, based in the rugged interior of the half-island territory, have been upholding a ceasefire since the UN talks began. They are said to be well-armed and able to mount hit-and-run raids.Reuse content