UN on brink of quitting Timor base after killings

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The Independent Online
THE UNITED Nations was on the verge of evacuating one of its offices in East Timor last night after more UN staff were murdered in the latest escalation of the territory's undeclared civil war.

Two East Timorese employees of the UN outpost in the town of Maliana were stabbed to death yesterday evening during two hours of anarchy during which militiamen, opposed to East Timorese independence, rampaged through the town, burning houses and firing automatic weapons.

In a familiar pattern, the Indonesian police were unable or unwilling to quell the violence and it took hours for them to respond to a request to guard the UN mission. The two latest victims, hired as drivers for the UN, were reported to have been murdered after their houses were burnt down by the mob. Their deaths bring to five the number of UN staff killed since Monday's UN-supervised referendum on independence.

Dozens of East Timorese have also been killed in the past fortnight, most of them supporters of independence who have died at the hands of the pro-Jakarta militias.

A UN official said that the decision to evacuate the entire mission to the East Timorese capital, Dili, would probably be taken this morning.

The move would put more pressure on the international community to respond to the situation in East Timor, which is rapidly descending into anarchy. Yesterday automatic rifles were fired outside the UN headquarters.

A militia leader yesterday told The Independent that there would be "civil war and slaughter" in the territory if, as expected, the referendum produces a majority in favour of independence. Hundreds of people, including diplomats and journalists, left evacuated yesterday as militia violence continued in several other parts of the territory.

Despite signs of a growing consensus for outside intervention to prevent anarchy, there seemed little likelihood of an immediate dispatch of an armed UN peace-keeping force to the province.

The problem is not so much one of Indonesia's agreement - which a government spokesman in Jakarta last night indicated would be forthcoming - but of sheer time.

"All options are under review," British officials said last night, "but you need several weeks to assemble a force, and the violence is happening now."

They pointed out that most of the major potential contributors to such a force were already heavily committed in Kosovo, meaning that even a "coalition of the willing," as suggested by the New Zealand Foreign Minister, Don McKinnon, this week might be hard to put together.

The main candidates would be the United States, Australia and New Zealand, and the Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, implied yesterday that Canberra would be ready to take part. The US too warned that the international community might be forced to intervene if Jakarta did not restore order.

But Australia is always reluctant to upset its giant and unstable northern neighbour, while Taiwan and Korea are the focus of Washington's attentions in the Far East.

In practice, the main leverage on Jakarta is economic, through the suspension of International Monetary Fund and World Bank financial aid.

In the meantime Britain and other countries insist it is up to Indonesia to halt the violence in the crucial period between the announcement of the referendum result early next week and ratification of the outcome, which is unlikely before November.

In London the Foreign secretary, Robin Cook, warned that there was "no excuse" for the campaign of violence and intimidation being mounted by the anti-independence militias, unchecked by Indonesian troops.

"The prime responsibility for halting that violence rests with the government of Indonesia," he said.

Fears of slaughter, page 12