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Wednesday, 6 September, 2000, 15:44 GMT 16:44 UK
Analysis: Danger of the Timor mission
Australian troops near West Timor border
Australian troops near the volatile border with West Timor
By South-East Asia correspondent Simon Ingram

The killings of the aid workers in West Timor have again underlined the dangers and complexities of the UN mission.

From the outset of the international community's intervention in East Timor, the vengeful and unruly pro-Jakarta militias have posed the severest dilemma for foreign soldiers and aid agency staff, often forced to operate in the most vulnerable of situations.

In the months immediately after the deployment of an Australian-led peacekeeping force last September, the militias seemed initially to be an overblown menace.

But although their forays across the border into East Timor were few, their desire for revenge against those they blame for the loss of the territory was never in any doubt.


Aid workers and Western journalists visiting the teeming refugee camps in West Timor, where the militia ruled unchallenged, were regularly threatened or beaten up.

East Timor refugees
The militias are trying to stop refugees going back to East Timor
As a result, attempts by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to send tens of thousands of East Timorese refugees back home were slow and fraught with danger.

A year on, the process is far from complete, and in recent weeks there have been ominous signs of a resurgence in militia activity, seen most notably in the deaths of two UN soldiers in skirmishes close to the border.

But the political imperative of retaining Indonesian goodwill has meant the UN could rely only on Jakarta's own assurances that it was doing all it could to restrain the militia.

Pressure on Jakarta to act

Direct intervention across the border was virtually ruled out as an option.

The militia rampage through Atambua has shown graphically that such assurances are worth little.

Indeed, reports that Indonesian security forces did little if anything to protect the UN staff will strengthen the widespread conviction that the government of President Abdurrahman Wahid may be incapable of controlling developments on the ground.

Even so, there will now be massive pressure on Jakarta to take firmer action against the militia. Whether such an option exists for an enfeebled central government is another matter entirely.

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See also:

06 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Four killed in Timor rampage
01 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Anger over Timor suspects list
25 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Aid for West Timor suspended
11 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
UN urges Jakarta to curb militias
14 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Indonesia to close Timor refugee camps
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