UN Seeks Better Security in E. Timor
DILI, Indonesia (AP) _ U.N. officials in East Timor pleaded with Indonesian security forces today to better protect them, one day after fighting between pro- and anti-independence supporters killed at least three people near the world body’s compound.
Meanwhile, thousands of East Timorese were leaving the city of Dili to avoid being targeted by more violence, residents said. Rumors were sweeping through Dili that there would soon be a wave of assaults by pro-Indonesian militiamen against people who voted for independence. The militiamen are believed to be backed by the Indonesian military.
``We have no possibility of protecting either ourselves _ our international staff, our local staff _ or anybody else, other than the pressure we can put upon the Indonesian authorities to fulfill their responsibilities,″ said Ian Martin, head of the U.N. mission.
U.S., Australian, Portuguese and U.N. officials in New York also strongly criticized Indonesia’s slow response to the violence.
Armed with homemade guns, rifles and machetes, hundreds of militiamen clashed Wednesday with rock-throwing independence supporters outside U.N. headquarters in the provincial capital.
At least three people were killed near the U.N. buildings, including one who was hacked to death by militiamen armed with machetes, U.N. officials and witnesses said.
Indonesian soldiers and police stood by without intervening as hundreds of people and dozens of journalists fled the scene. It took more than an hour for riot police to arrive and disperse the militants.
The violence came as ballots from Monday’s historic referendum were being counted in Dili, East Timor’s capital. The U.N.-sponsored vote asked the mostly Roman Catholic East Timorese whether they wanted to become independent or remain part of mostly Muslim Indonesia as an autonomous region.
East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, has been a province of Indonesia since being invaded in 1975. After decades of human rights abuses and international condemnation, Indonesia reversed policy in January and announced East Timor would be given the right of self-determination.
The outcome of the referendum won’t be known until next week, but the high turnout left many people assuming the pro-independence supporters could win by a landslide.
Clashes between anti-independence militiamen and supporters of independence have raised fears that East Timor could slide back into lawlessness after the referendum on the territory’s future.
Many stores in Dili remained closed today, and there were few cars and pedestrians on the streets.
Thousands of East Timorese were leaving the city in fear, going back to their home villages or to the safety of mountains outside the capital, residents in Dili said.
``My neighbors have gone. They say it is safer to camp out in the mountains than to stay in Dili,″ one resident said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
At one small house not far from the U.N. compound, dozens of weeping and wailing people held an emotional wake for one of the three men killed Wednesday.
Elsewhere, two armed militiamen ran into the Turismo hotel in Dili where journalists, foreign human rights observers and embassy staff observers are staying.
Shouting angry threats against foreigners, the militants assaulted one observer, Sharon Scarfe, a Canadian who directs Parliamentarians for East Timor, a multinational observer group. ``They shouted at me. ... Then they kicked me,″ she said. She was not seriously hurt.
The militiamen then left.
The Indonesian government said today it might allow a U.N. peacekeeping force into East Timor if the security situation deteriorates. President B.J. Habibie had previously ruled out any international force for the province.
However, the U.N. leadership is believed to be cool toward the idea. Martin urged the Indonesian government to take responsibility for protecting U.N. officials and residents in the tense capital.
Martin said Wednesday’s attack outside the U.N. compound was not directed at its buildings or staff members, but at residents who want to see the territory become independent from Indonesia.
``It is clear that we would not be in a position to have prevented the worst violence if the mob had indeed attempted to attack the compound itself,″ Martin told a news conference in Dili.
Martin said Indonesia’s military commander, Gen. Wiranto, had ordered additional security for U.N. staff and premises in East Timor. That includes the Dili Museum building, where ballots from the referendum are being counted. It has not been attacked.
Indonesia’s government sent 360 additional police to Dili today. Martin also said security forces had set up a road block to the west of Dili to prevent anti-independence militiamen from coming into the town from areas that they control.
Using a special C-130 flight, the military evacuated journalists who had been threatened or attacked.
In another development, an independent election commission began hearing complaints by the anti-independence movement that local U.N. officials had cheated during the referendum by encouraging, and even forcing, illiterate villages to vote for independence.