Troops search East Timor's capital, arrest militia leader
Friday, September 24th 1999, 12:00 am
News On 6
DILI, East Timor (AP) -- Multinational troops searched
house-to-house for suspected militiamen in East Timor's pillaged
capital Friday, as new reports emerged that entire towns in the
hinterland have been emptied of people and torched.
"We should be celebrating the birth of an independent nation,
but instead we are witnessing a baptism in blood," Amnesty
International said in a report on East Timor. The human rights
organization said tens of thousands of people were forcibly
deported from East Timor by the Indonesian army.
In the capital Dili, about 1,000 multinational combat troops,
backed by armored personnel carriers and two Blackhawk helicopters,
sealed off several city blocks Friday in a huge display of force.
Lt. Col. Nick Welsh, the Australian officer commanding the
operation, said several "hard-core militia" members were detained
and some weapons seized, but gave no details. Earlier, the
peacekeepers announced they had arrested a leader of an
anti-independence militia suspected of committing atrocities in the
aftermath of East Timor's overwhelming vote for independence on
"You can't run, you can't hide, justice is here," said Maj.
Chip Henriss-Anderssen, a force spokesman.
Hundreds and perhaps thousands of people were killed when the
militias went on a rampage following the U.N.-sponsored referendum.
Multinational peacekeepers were sent to the former Portuguese
colony, which Indonesia invaded in 1975, to stop the violence.
Troops continued to pour into Dili on Friday, the latest
arrivals coming from the Philippines and Canada, raising the number
well beyond 3,000. More than 7,500 are expected.
But while peacekeepers worked to secure the capital, a food
shipment to a refugee camp outside Dili was canceled because there
were not enough troops available to protect it. Indonesian troops
on Thursday stole two of four trucks carrying aid to the camp near
the village of Dare, a World Food Program spokesman said Friday.
Some women and children who met a different U.N. convoy were
gaunt, showing signs of malnutrition. Many have been eating leaves
and roots. Diarrhea and respiratory ailments are common.
To avoid future hijackings, the agency will airdrop food for at
least the next two weeks, Christiane Berthiaume, a WFP spokeswoman,
said in Geneva.
The commander of Indonesian forces in East Timor said Friday he
will formally hand over responsibility for the territory on Monday.
"I can't fully control all the situation here," Maj. Gen. K.
Syahnakri said. Asked if he would stop his troops from destroying
telephone lines and power stations, Syahnakri said: "As much as I
am in control, I guarantee infrastructure will not be destroyed."
In Geneva, the U.N. Human Rights Commission met in a special
session to discuss sending a fact-finding mission to East Timor,
which could lead to war crimes trials. But Indonesia, supported by
other Asian countries, opposed an international probe and said it
should be left to Jakarta to conduct an inquiry. The commission
will meet again Monday.
In a rare independent confirmation of refugee accounts of forced
deportations, a U.N. aerial survey of the western side of East
Timor on Thursday found "very few people living there," said
David Wimhurst, a U.N. spokesman in Darwin, Australia. The towns of
Maliana, Suai and Ainaro have been "totally burnt," with houses
in Ainaro still smoking, he said.
Independence activists in Darwin said forced deportations were
part of a deliberate policy to replace the population with people
who want the territory to remain part of Indonesia.
Amnesty International, in a report released Friday, reached the
same conclusion. The group said the army is also burning houses and
barracks during its retreat to punish East Timorese for choosing
On Friday, the white colonial residence of the governor, one of
Dili's most imposing buildings, went up in flames. It was one of
the few remaining structures left intact in a city that once had
Despite the destruction, dozens of people celebrated the
departure of Indonesian forces Friday when they abandoned one of
their largest remaining barracks in Dili and boarded a naval
"We are so happy they are going because they have killed so
many of our people for so many years," said Alfredo Soares.