20 feared dead in new attacks by Timorese militias

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The Independent Online

United Nations officials said yesterday they feared that as many as 20 villagers had been massacred in a fresh attack by pro-Indonesian militias in West Timor, the day after a mob killed three foreign aid workers.

United Nations officials said yesterday they feared that as many as 20 villagers had been massacred in a fresh attack by pro-Indonesian militias in West Timor, the day after a mob killed three foreign aid workers.

Although details of the continuing violence were sketchy, it appears that law and order has broken down in the region, bordering UN-administered East Timor. Witnesses said militias were operating with impunity despite assurances by Indonesia that its security forces would clamp down on the gangs.

In the East Timor capital of Dili, the spokesman the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Bernard Kerblat, said militiamen reportedly went on a killing spree on Thursday in Betun village, south of Atambua, where a mob stormed a UNHCR office the previous day. "There are unconfirmed reports of 20 casualties," he said.

The President of Indonesia, Abdurrahman Wahid, humiliated by the violence that broke out as he joined world leaders at the UN summit in New York, has promised to crack down on militias. He told a news conference in New York that two Indonesian battalions had been sent to Atambua. "I think that now everything is, in the military parlance, under control," Mr Wahid said. "I think now the situation is very good there. That is according to the full report I got this morning."

But Mr Wahid did not refer to yesterday's UN reports that 20 people had been killed in fresh fighting on Thursday. Indonesian army officers said they had no details of the UN report, but confirmed that 11 people had been killed near Betun, 60 houses destroyed and 100 cattle slaughtered in fighting between villagers and militiamen.

In a show of force yesterday,about 1,000 militiamen in uniform gathered for the funeral of one of their commanders. The unexplained murder on Tuesday of Olivio Mendosa Moruk is said to have triggered Wednesday's rampage against the UN office in Atambua.

Outside Atambua, armed gangs set up roadblocks and extorted money and cigarettes from motorists. Others scoured the countryside for foreigners.

"I think it is quite evident that Indonesian authorities are not in control in West Timor," the spokesman for the UN peace-keepers, Col Brynar Nymo, said in Dili. He claimed the killings were aimed at discrediting him and derailing democratic reforms.

Comments in the Indonesian media said the slayings had brought shame on Indonesia. "The Indonesian military, being the chief sponsor of the militias, must be made to rein in its proxy soldiers and arrest their leaders who have perpetrated their campaign of terror," The Jakarta Post said.

About 250 foreign aid workers have been evacuated from West Timor after the murders of the UN civilian staff. ( AP)

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