Militias taking control near West Timor border with East Timor

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The Independent Online

Anti-independence militia gangs have attacked U.N. relief workers and set up roadblocks in Indonesian West Timor to stop refugees from returning home to East Timor, an official from the world body said Wednesday.

Anti-independence militia gangs have attacked U.N. relief workers and set up roadblocks in Indonesian West Timor to stop refugees from returning home to East Timor, an official from the world body said Wednesday.

Tensions were rising in the region and Indonesia's military was doing nothing to stop the militia gangs, said Jake Morland, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

He said militiamen badly beat three UNHCR staff in West Timor on Tuesday when they tried to distribute supplies at a refugee camp about 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of the border.

Morland said gang members attacked the staff with machetes and sticks. Two escaped after being beaten. A third was captured and taken to a nearby rice field where the gang held his head under water. He later escaped with the help of some refugees.

East Timor voted for independence last Aug. 30 in a U.N.-sponsored ballot. Afterward, tens of thousands of people fled their homes when pro-Indonesia militiamen reacted by going on a violent rampage.

The violence ended when international forces landed in the territory in September. Most refugees have since returned home, but about 80,000 - mainly militiamen and their families - remain in camps in West Timor.

Morland said four roadblocks had been set up between the West Timor town of Atambua and the East Timor border to stop the flow of returning refugees.

"They are trying to control the border area on their side," he said in a telephone interview from West Timor. "Indonesia's military is fully capable of moving them, but has done nothing."

An Indonesian military officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the accusations were not true and the armed forces were trying hard to disarm the gangs.

But their efforts were hampered as the militias kept crossing the border into East Timor, he said.

Clashes between pro-Indonesia groups and U.N. peacekeepers in East Timor have become frequent recently and there is growing speculation that sections of Indonesia's military have been arming and training the gangs.

Two U.N. peacekeepers have been killed and four others wounded in border clashes. Several militiamen have also been killed.

The United Nations has complained repeatedly that militiamen are using the refugee camps in West Timor as bases for border incursions.

On Wednesday, a team of Indonesian officials arrived in East Timor's capital Dili to discuss the repatriation of the refugees with U.N. administrators. Indonesia has promised to close the refugee camps within six months.

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