Militias plunge East Timor into chaos after independence vote
September 5, 1999
From staff and wire reports
DILI, East Timor (CNN) -- East Timor was in turmoil Sunday as pro-Indonesian militias rampaged through the former Portuguese colony after an overwhelming vote for independence from Jakarta.
The United Nations announced the results of last week's historic referendum Saturday, sparking a new and intensified wave of violence from the militias, who want to maintain ties to Indonesia.
Indonesian President B.J. Habibie and international leaders appealed for calm, but the militias showed no signs of heeding the calls, sometimes attacking under the watching eyes of an idle Indonesian military.
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright reminded Indonesia that it was responsible for East Timor until its legislature endorsed the vote later in the fall.
"Indonesia has continuing obligations and must live up to them," said Albright, who is traveling in the Middle East. "To do otherwise risks disaster and will have lasting effects on Indonesia's status in the international community."
Pro-Indonesia leader flees
But as the world cast a wary eye toward the troubled Indonesian territory, the militias grabbed tighter control and maintained it in an increasingly violent fashion. Their attacks appeared to be uncoordinated and unorganized, prompting fears that appeals for calm would have little effect with no show of leadership in evidence.
As if to underscore the chaotic nature of the violence, militia leader Eurico Guterres -- who earlier in the week announced that his forces would guard East Timor's exit points to prevent leaders of both sides from fleeing -- boarded a plane himself and flew to Bali.
"I need to take care of my family," Guterres said. "I respect their rights to be on their own. Go ahead and be independent and break away from Indonesia. But they don't have the right to force me to join them to be independent."
Meanwhile, Indonesian State Secretary Muladi said that the government was preparing to send in a team of ministers to aid East Timor's transition toward independence. Foreign Minister Ali Alatas, army chief Gen. Wiranto and others are to fly to East Timor on Sunday.
Wiranto will meet with police chiefs and militia leaders, Muladi said.
Gusmao to get early release
Muladi also announced the early release of independence activist Xanana Gusmao from house arrest. Indonesia announced earlier in the week that Gusmao would be allowed to return to East Timor within the next few weeks, but on Saturday Muladi said he would be freed on Wednesday.
"We hope he will help with the upholding of law and order," Muladi said.
After U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced the results of the vote, Gusmao called for an international peacekeeping force.
"We foresee a new genocide in East Timor," he said in a statement. "We foresee total destruction in a desperate and last attempt by the Indonesian generals and politicians maybe as well to deny the people of East Timor their freedom."
Indonesia initially resisted the idea of U.N. peacekeepers, but appeared to soften its stance this week under massive international pressure.
Gusmao had been serving a 20-year prison term for his activities fighting for East Timor's independence. The territory was a Portuguese colony for several centuries, but Portugal abandoned it and Indonesia invaded in 1975.
Situation 'deteriorating' outside Dili
Fearing a backlash from the militias, few people dared celebrate the vote on the streets of the territory's capital, Dili. Sporadic bursts of automatic weapons fire could be heard in the outskirts of the city, where most people holed up in their homes after days of killings and burnings.
An additional 1,400 Indonesian troops arrived to restore order, but a sense of confidence was difficult to restore. The troops lifted some militia roadblocks and formed a security cordon around a hotel where journalists and hundreds of citizens were hunkered down.
Outside the capital, U.N. officials described the situation as "deteriorating." U.N. staff were evacuated from two East Timorese towns on Saturday when pro-Jakarta militias went on a rampage after the vote announcement.
The White House said on Saturday the shooting of a U.S. citizen in East Timor highlighted the urgency for Indonesia to act to stop the violence that has erupted in the aftermath of an independence ballot.
Mike Hammer, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said President Clinton's security team had only sketchy details about the wounding of a U.S. citizen working as a civilian police adviser with the United Nations.
But he said officials were "distraught" to learn of the incident and added, "It only serves to bring to light the urgency for Indonesia to move quickly to establish a safe environment in East Timor."
U.N. sources have said that a helicopter had been requested to evacuate the wounded U.S. citizen, whom they said had been shot in the abdomen while in the East Timorese town of Liquica. Further details were not immediately available.
U.N. local and international staff withdrew to Dili from the towns of Aniaro, Aileu, Liquica and Same, where militias were roaming the streets firing weapons, U.N. sources said.
There also were reports of unrest in the town of Maliana, on the border with Indonesia's West Timor. There were no details, but "certainly there has been a lot of killing," a U.N. official said.
East Timor chooses independence from Indonesia
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