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Gang Violence Rocks East Timor City

January 11, 2000

BAUCAU, East Timor (AP) _ Gang warfare has broken out in East Timor’s second-largest city, posing a challenge to U.N. authority, officials said Tuesday.

For two weeks, gangs of youths have fought pitched battles for control of the streets in Baucau, 70 miles west of the capital, Dili, said Sergey Lashin, chief of the U.N. police force in East Timor. Several people have been injured, Lashin said.

He said one of the gangs had links to the pro-Indonesia movement.

Indonesia invaded East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, in 1975 and ruled it for 24 years. The overwhelming vote for independence in a U.N.-supervised referendum last year touched of a violent rampage of killing, looting and house-burning by Indonesian troops and their militia proxies.

Officials of the U.N. Transitional Administration in East Timor, which is preparing the territory for self-government, fear the latest gang clashes could lead to widespread criminal violence.

Other U.N. missions around the world have faced similar outbreaks in strife-ridden regions. An explosion of crime in Kosovo has led to hundreds of deaths since the world body took control six months ago.

Baucau’s bishop, Basilio de Nascimento, said it was imperative the U.N. put a stop to the violence immediately.

``I’m a little afraid that all these troubles are caused by the people who are in love with Indonesia,″ he said. ``We need to have law and order.″

Nevertheless, Nascimento said he expected the gang warfare would continue.

Sergio Vieira de Mello, who heads the U.N. mission, said political allegiances were not motivating the violence. Instead, he said, poverty and unemployment were leading people toward crime.

Many people in East Timor have found themselves jobless after the companies they once worked for were destroyed by Indonesian troops before they abandoned the territory.

Meanwhile, U.N. investigators began Tuesday to exhume two mass graves near the town of Labukoe, 40 miles west of Dili.

Authorities believe one grave contains seven bodies of people killed when pro-Indonesian militiamen allegedly massacred independence supporters on April 5 at a church in the northern town of Liquica, local political leaders said.

The other grave is said to contain the bodies of 11 victims, allegedly killed during an April 17 attack on the Dili home of independence campaigner Manuel Carrascalao.