U.N. To Evacuate From East Timor
DILI, Indonesia (AP) _ The United Nations prepared to evacuate all but a skeleton staff from East Timor amid allegations by the Roman Catholic Church today that anti-independence militiamen massacred nuns, priests and civilians.
Keeping the U.N. compound in Dili open is vital to the world body’s plans to shepherd East Timor to full nationhood after its people voted overwhelmingly on Aug. 30 for independence from Indonesia.
The Vatican’s missionary news service FIDES cited local sources as saying three priests were slain in a grenade attack in Suai on Sept. 6. One of the three priests, Rev. Hilario Madeira, was well-known as an independence backer, FIDES said.
FIDES also said witnesses reported that 15 priests were killed in Dili and Baucau and some nuns were killed in Baucau.
The Roman Catholic charity group, Caritas, cited reports that the director of its East Timor operations, Father Francisco Barreto, had been killed by army-backed militiamen in Dare. Other Caritas workers were also feared dead.
``We will eventually know their fate,″ Caritas Australia spokeswoman Ann Wigglesworth told Sky News television.
East Timor is a predominately Roman Catholic province in mostly Muslim Indonesia, where religious violence has killed hundreds.
Taur Matan Ruak, the field commander of pro-independence guerrillas, told Portuguese state radio RDP that militias killed at least 32 civilians, including two children, in a wave of attacks Wednesday.
In the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, Foreign Minister Ali Alatas met a high-level U.N. delegation, but again rejected demands for U.N. peacekeepers. He admitted that rogue elements in the army were taking part in the violence, but said they would be brought under control.
President B.J. Habibie was buffeted by reports that the military had encroached on his powers, sending the stock market and currency into a nose-dive.
In Washington, The U.S. Defense Department announced it had suspended official relations with the Indonesian military in light of its failure to contain the crisis.
In Dili, an Australian air force C-130 transport plane flew in supplies this morning for the U.N. compound. Telephone services and water supplies were also restored to the compound.
U.N. officials said about 40 to 50 U.N. staff, including police and military liaison officers, will stay behind when another 150 U.N. international workers and 167 local staff members are evacuated Friday by the Australian air force.
In a statement, U.N. mission chief Ian Martin said the security situation had improved but was still dangerous in Dili today.
``The state of the city is a disgrace with significant numbers of militia members still roaming the streets with impunity,″ he said. ``Dili is a ghost town with not very much left to loot.″
Witnesses at the U.N. compound said shots echoed nearby at sunset. Army personnel had also lit fires near its perimeter and several stun grenades had been set off. The United Nations is scrambling to find ways to protect several hundred panic-stricken refugees who had streamed into the compound over the last few days.
Indonesian soldiers Wednesday night opened fire on about 300 refugees who had fled from a school next door to the U.N. compound. It was not known whether anyone was injured.
``We hid behind a big rock because we couldn’t go any further. There was so much shooting. But others got away when the soldiers came up the hill,″ said a teen-age girl who identified herself only as Shanti.
Martin said the Indonesian army promised to help relocate the remaining refugees to a new camp at Dare, about 6 miles south of Dili.
East Timor plummeted into lawlessness after Saturday’s announcement that an overwhelming majority of voters approved independence. The announcement triggered a wild and violent backlash from the militias opposed to independence.
The father of rebel leader Jose Alexandre ``Xanana″ Gusmao, Manuel Gusmao, was killed by pro-Jakarta loyalist militias, according to a report by the Portuguese news agency Lusa that was confirmed by a Gusmao aide.
Gusmao, widely expected to become the first president of an independent East Timor, has taken refuge in the British Embassy in Jakarta after being freed from a prison on Wednesday.
Refugees continued to pour into neighboring West Timor, escaping the violence.
About 6,000 people were crammed into one camp just outside the provincial capital, Kupang, badly straining resources.
``Hundreds of people may have been killed,″ refugee Yossmina Katu said. ``There were lots of areas of violence.″
Evident in the camps were swaggering members of the Aitarak militia, one of the most feared among the anti-independence groups that notched up their violence after results were announced Saturday. The militia members wore T-shirts emblazoned with their group’s name.
West Timor is the half of the island that has been anchored in Indonesia since it gained independence from the Netherlands in 1949. The west has been fertile ground for recruiting militiamen to enforce Jakarta’s will on the east.
U.N. officials estimated that up to 200,000 people _ a quarter of the territory’s population _ have fled in the past several days, and there are widespread reports of mass killings.
At a meeting in Auckland, New Zealand, ministers from the Americas, Asia and Europe criticized Indonesia for failing to stop the terror in East Timor but stopped short of endorsing a peacekeeping mission to the province.
In Jakarta, anti-government students clashed outside the parliament with riot police. Four protesters were injured.