UN predicts `orgy of violence' in Timor

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UNITED NATIONS officials supervising the referendum on independence for East Timor fear for their lives after threats of war by terrorist militias backed by the Indonesian army.

Militia groups in the town of Maliana are believed to be hoarding automatic weapons, and sources in the UN Assistance Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) fear a campaign of terror intended to disrupt the voting next Monday.

UN intelligence suggests that the militias, who are openly directed by the local Indonesian military commander, plan to seal off the town with roadblocks, cut electricity, and conduct violent retribution against supporters of independence for East Timor. UN volunteers have also received death threats, and the 100-strong mission in Maliana is prepared for immediate evacuation.

Families of Indonesian civil servants and military personnel have been evacuated in their thousands, apparently in preparation for what sources say is an "orgy of violence" planned for Friday, the last day of campaigning, or for polling day itself, three days later. As many as 3,000 people are believed to have left Maliana, many of them carrying beds and wardrobes on heavy lorries.

"We've seen militia members carrying M16s, we've seen their families clearing out of town and we're hearing consistent reports of preparations for war," said one UN source yesterday. "Wouldn't you be pessimistic?"

The situation has deteriorated dramatically in the last fortnight, despite repeated pleas to the Indonesian government, which is supposed to keep law and order during the referendum. In reality, Indonesian army and police officers are indifferent to, or in some cases complicit with, the activities of the militias.

UN personnel in Maliana have been menaced by militia members. A team carrying out a voter-education programme was confronted by a crowd of pro-Indonesia locals chanting: "We want war." One Australian military liaison officer was evacuated from the town after death threats were reported against him.

A week ago, pro-independence students were terrorised, and one young man had his throat cut after being dragged from a bus. UNAMET has provided the Indonesian authorities with a list of military personnel who it believes to be especially involved in creating trouble, but so far no action has been taken against them.

East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, was brutally invaded by Indonesia in 1975 and annexed the following year, a move which has not been recognised by the UN. An estimated 200,000 people have died of famine, disease and bitter fighting between Indonesian troops and separatist guerrillas.

The Indonesian President, B J Habibie, announced in January that the territory might be given its independence, and the referendum was agreed. But senior elements in the Indonesian military appear to be working to sabotage it.

Terror as poll looms, page 12

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