|EAST TIMOR: RISING TENSIONS|
September 1, 1999
A riot outside the United Nations compound in East Timor leaves five dead, while U.N. election officials encounter militia roadblocks on their way to count referendum ballots.
-- Posted 4:00 PM ET
United Nations officials began counting the vote that will determine
whether East Timor secedes from Indonesia, violent clashes between pro-independence
supporters and pro-Indonesia militants erupted outside the U.N. compound,
reportedly leaving five dead.
Wire reports indicate that nearly 100 pro-Indonesia militiamen fired automatic weapons and wielded machetes against pro-independence supporters in East Timor's capital of Dili. The militia also set fire to at least two buildings near the U.N. compound in the city, although U.N. officials do not believe that the compound was the target of the attack.
|Violence in the streets|
One of those killed outside the compound was a 19-year-old pro-independence
supporter. According to the Associated Press, he had been trapped between
two militia groups. One militia member shot him, while six others hacked
him to death with machetes.
by Indonesian President B.J. Habibie and monitored by the U.N., the East
Timor vote will decide whether the region will remain an autonomous
Indonesian province or will declare independence. Observers say the
referendum, in which 99 percent of East Timor's registered voters participated,
is widely expected to favor independence. The U.N. expects to release
vote totals on Sept. 7.
The violence in the streets of Dili has fueled accusations that the
Indonesian military is supporting and arming militia members and that
Indonesian police are turning a blind eye to the bloodshed.
"There's obviously a policy by the military hierarchy to continue
provoking violence," East Timorese pro-independence leader Jose
Ramos-Horta said on Portuguese state radio. "The militias on their
own couldn't get the means to challenge the entire population and the
entire international community."
A representative from New Zealand suggested that, should the militia activity continue, foreign intervention was possible in East Timor.
The United States also responded to the violence, criticizing the Indonesian military police for what it called a "seriously inadequate" response to the unrest.
"The United States is deeply concerned over this state of affairs on the ground in East Timor," U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said.
"We urge Indonesian authorities fully to accept their responsibility and to take immediate action that ends, once and for all, the activities of the pro-integration militias and to arrest those disturbing order, terrorizing the populace and disrupting the U.N. process. Indonesia's international reputation will suffer if it fails to abide by its commitments," he added.
Indonesia contended they could control the situation.
"As I see it, the situation in East Timor has not reached a condition
which needs foreign troops," Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman
Sulaiman Abdulmanan told Reuters. "We are still capable of overcoming
Indonesian police said 300 additional officers would be flown into the region on Sept. 2.
|The U.N. opens its doors|
As the violence intensified, the U.N. opened the gates of its Dili compound
to East Timorese fleeing from the militias. Nearly 400 refugees, U.N.
staff and journalists were crowded into the compound Sept. 1. The Indonesian
police, anticipating an influx of East Timorese refugees, increased
their presence on the region's border with West Timor.
Bands of armed pro-Indonesia militia members reportedly roamed
the East Timorese countryside as well, setting up roadblocks and forcing
those favoring independence to flee their homes.
U.N. workers themselves have also been targets of militia violence. Transporting
ballots from remote locations to Dili, U.N. staff faced harassment and
the threat of violent contact with militia groups.
One U.N. staffer, working at a polling station in the village of Atsabe,
was killed Aug. 30 in a militia attack. Two other U.N. staffers were reported
missing and feared dead as militia unrest spread.
Militia members detained a U.N. convoy of 150 staffers in the village
of Gleno and, after lengthy negotiations, allowed the convoy to continue.
By day's end, the police had disbanded much of the open violence in Dili, although bands of armed militia members were still reportedly roaming the city's streets.