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Monday, July 26, 1999 Published at 13:33 GMT 14:33 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Timor rebels welcome UN

Rebels reject weapons handover while Indonesian forces remain

By Jonathan Head at the Falintil camp in East Timor

Hundreds of Falintil fighters, most equipped with guns and uniforms captured from the Indonesian army, greeted the white United Nations helicopter with applause as it landed in their remote mountain camp.

East Timor
This was the first meeting between the UN mission in East Timor and the commander of the pro-independence forces.

Falintil commanders gathered here from all over East Timor for the meeting.

The men's bearded and scarred faces betrayed the hardship of their lonely struggle against Indonesia's occupation of East Timor.

High hopes

The fighters hold high hopes that the UN mission can arrange a free and fair vote for the East Timorese people, a vote they believe will go overwhelmingly in favour of independence.

[ image: Pro-Indonesia militias have continued their attacks]
Pro-Indonesia militias have continued their attacks
But their expectations may be too high. The rebel commander, Taur Atan Ruak told the UN delegation his fighters could not surrender their weapons while Indonesian troops remained in East Timor.

He proposed to canton his members in a few areas under UN monitoring. He also requested UN help to register them for the coming referendum.

The head of the UN delegation reminded the pro-independence forces that under the New York agreement, Indonesia remains in charge of security.

But most of the fighters here say they will never trust the Indonesian authorities after the bloodshed they have witnessed over the past 23 years.

Old guns, very young recruits

The Falintil commanders say if the vote goes well, whatever the result, they will be ready to lay down their arms.

But they warn that if the attacks on civilians by pro-Jakarta militias continue, they are ready to go back to the armed struggle.

Many of their weapons are old, many of their recent recruits are very young.

But they are clearly well organised, highly motivated and, unlike the militias, they seem genuinely popular among the local people.

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