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Thursday, 17 February, 2000, 18:16 GMT
Shadowy militias of East Timor
Anti-independence militia groups are blamed for most of the violence
By Regional Analyst Kieran Cooke

East Timor
The violence which erupted after East Timor's vote for independence was instigated by pro-Jakarta militias.

There were believed to be at least 13 such groups operating in the territory in the run up to the referendum.

The most prominent was headed by a man called Eurico Guterres, who warned that East Timor would be turned into ''a sea of fire'' if it became independent.

Some of the militias had been in existence for a number of years. When it invaded East Timor in 1975 Indonesia recruited and armed groups of East Timorese to support rule by Jakarta.

Over the years, these militias were used to help in the fight against Falintil, the pro-independence guerrillas.
Eurico Guterres
Eurico Guterres weeps at a comrade's funeral
But many only came into being following the surprise announcement of a referendum on the territory's future by Indonesia's President Habibie last January.

The Indonesian military, which was ultimately responsible for security in East Timor, should have clamped down on the militias.

But some said the military, which opposed Mr Habibie's referendum, had no interest in curbing the militia's activities.

That the militias received arms, training and instructions from the Indonesian military is beyond question.

Timorese support for militia

The militias were slaughtering people even before the post-referendum violence. They are believed to have killed at least 1,000 civilians in the 12 months preceding the vote.

In the worst single incident 57 people were shot and hacked to death in a churchyard 30km west of Dili last April.

Militia support - strongest in the west of the territory - came mainly from those Timorese who joined the Indonesian civil service and other Jakarta bodies who saw their livelihood - and even their lives - threatened by any move towards independence.

There were also those who had suffered Falintil violence and intimidation.

The red berets, sunglasses and armoury of Guterres' militia have been a feared sight round the territory, but there are no accurate figures on how many are involved in his and other groups.

One problem in dealing with the militias is that they appear to have no unified command structure.

Some regard themselves as soldiers - others seem little more than thugs out to promote anarchy.

 WATCH/LISTEN
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Audio
Jonathan Head reports on the evidence of collusion between the militias and the military
Eats Timor: One year after the vote for independence

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01 Sep 99 | Asia-Pacific
03 Sep 99 | UK Politics
04 Sep 99 | Asia-Pacific
30 Aug 99 | Asia-Pacific
30 Aug 99 | Monitoring
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