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Monday, July 5, 1999 Published at 07:10 GMT 08:10 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Indonesia condemns East Timor attack

UN representatives (right) face armed gunmen in Liquisa

The Indonesian Government has condemned an attack by pro-Jakarta militias on a United Nations-escorted aid convoy in East Timor, and has promised to investigate the incident.

The head of the UN in East Timor, Ian Martin, accused the Indonesian authorities of an inexcusable lack of action to control the militias.

He said the attack could jeopardise next month's referendum on the territory's future.

Three people were injured and six are missing after the militias opened fire on the aid convoy in the town of Liquisa on Sunday. A UN car was badly damaged and a UN helicopter was attacked as it tried to evacuate the aid workers.

UN East Timor head Ian Martin: "Staff withdrawn from Lequicia to Dili"
The UN has now withdrawn its staff from the town.

The convoy, organised by a local human rights group, had just distributed supplies of food and medicine to displaced people living around the town when it was targeted by militiamen armed with guns and machetes.

Click here to watch scenes of the attack on the UN vehicle
It was the third attack on the UN in the past week by the pro-Jakarta paramilitaries. On Tuesday, the UN office in the town of Maliana was badly damaged and there have been numerous threats against UN personnel.

Indonesia has promised to guarantee security in East Timor in the build-up to next month's planned referendum on the territory's future.

But Mr Martin told the BBC that it was looking increasingly impossible for a "positive security assessment" to be made ahead of the vote.

[ image: The UN driver was held up at knifepoint]
The UN driver was held up at knifepoint
"Our safety is something that we have to assess. We have put security restrictions on our staff. Clearly there are questions about how we can go about the work that we are supposed to be doing,'' he said.

"At the moment we are still seeing militia operating in a number of places with impunity.

"The secretary general (of the United Nations) has to make an assessment of the security conditions in 10 days time.

"It's impossible to see how that will be a positive assessment."

Empty promises

Indonesian military personnel have been accused of giving covert support to the militias which have been holding the inhabitants of Liquisa under virtual armed seige since they attacked the town in April, killing a number of civilians.

Local residents complain of regular threats and harassment to dissuade them from voting for independence.

Indonesian foreign minister, Ali Alatas: "We will attend to whatever issues there are"
In Jakarta, the Foreign Minister Ali Alatas has said Indonesia will withdraw from East Timor within a matter of months if the referendum does result in a vote for independence.

Speaking after a meeting with East Timorese pro-independence leaders, Mr Alatas said East Timor would immediately revert to being a Portuguese-administered territory if its people rejected Indonesia's offer of autonomy.

East Timorese leader Jose Ramos Horta: "It has been an eye-opener"
Indonesia would only stay for as long as it took to withdraw its troops and officials.

The pro-independence delegation, led by the resistance leader, Xanana Gusmao, and the exiled Nobel Laureate, Jose Ramos-Horta, paid tribute to the new policy.

[ image: Mr Gusmao and Mr Horta are pleased with the new plan]
Mr Gusmao and Mr Horta are pleased with the new plan
But many points of difference remain.

The pro-independence delegation is proposing a transitional government in which pro-Jakarta Timorese, the United Nations and Indonesia could be involved for up to three years after the vote.

It also wants Mr Gusmao released from house arrest so he can campaign in East Timor before next month's referendum.

Mr Alatas said he could give no assurances that this would happen. While he expressed interest in the proposal for a three year transitional administration, he ruled out long-term Indonesian involvement in the territory.

The foreign minister repeated earlier promises to guarantee security in East Timor but said it was unrealistic to expect the Indonesian military to be impartial after 23 years of fighting in the territory.

He also accused the United Nations mission there of favouring the pro-independence movement.

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