Several thousand militiamen mustered yesterday in the hill town of Aileo, south of Dili, where 20 of them drank blood mixed with wine. "In East Timorese tradition, this shows that we are in a serious situation and we are ready to face it," said Basilio Araujo, their spokesman. Mr Araujo claims the militias are only defending themselves from the independence movement's guerrillas. But he has said on Australian television: "We will kill as many people as we want."
Supporters of independence have launched some pinprick attacks, but the militias have been far more brutal. The armed wing of the independence movement, Falintil, has a few hundred guerrillas in the hills but they are under orders not to go into Dili.
The parade in Aileo ended without violence, though after a similar parade in Dili on Saturday a thousand armed militiamen raided the house of a local independence leader, Manuel Carrascalao. At least 12 of the 126 refugees in the house were shot or hacked to death. The fate of the rest is unclear.
Militiamen admit that leaders of the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT), the main pro-independence group, are on their hit-list. Mr Carrascalao and another CNRT leader, Leandro Isaac, are now sheltering with the police. Unlike the army, the police have made some effort to save lives.
A well-placed source fears the next target may be the town of Baucau, east of Dili. The CNRT leader there, Marito Reis, has refused to leave his house, saying he does not want to abandon his followers.
The East Timorese are supposed to choose between autonomy and secession in a July referendum backed by the United Nations. Indonesia hasdrawn up a plan for autonomy, and if the leaders of the independence movement are dead or exiled, people may not dare to vote for secession.
The real power in East Timor is not the Jakarta government but a shadowy group of army officers and intelligence operatives. A key figure in this group was a notorious former general, Prabowo Subianto, who has been in exile since losing a power struggle with the army leadership last summer. The Timorese fighters he trained and armed are now the core of the militias.
t A bomb ripped through the basement of the Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, South-east Asia's largest mosque, yesterday, causing serious damage and injuring three people. Indonesia's president, BJ Habibie, condemned the attack as an attempt to worsen the religious violence plaguing the country.