A militia coalition known as Combat Lafaek
- or crocodile combat group - will wait until U.N. troops depart East Timor
before launching an offensive across the border, said Cancio Lopes de Carvalho,
the former commander of a pro-Indonesian armed group.
“At the moment we are in a cooling down period. We will wait for the United Nations to leave before we go back in,” he said in West Timor’s capital of Kupang.
Militia gangs were initially established in East Timor in the early 1990s by the Indonesian military in response to a growing independence movement in the former Portuguese colony. Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 and ruled it with an iron fist until a 1999 U.N.-sponsored independence referendum.
The militias served as auxiliaries for the Indonesian army in the war against guerrillas.
Their activity increased dramatically in the run-up to the plebiscite. Hundreds of East Timorese civilians were killed during army and militia rampages that followed the vote.
Since the Indonesian withdrawal in October 1999, the gangs have operated out of bases in West Timor. Two peacekeepers were killed in a series of clashes with U.N. troops.
According to Lopes de Carvalho, Combat
Lafaek was set up when a number of separate gangs were integrated into
a single group.
U.N. peacekeepers operating along the mountainous border confirmed that the militia group first began operating last year.
Following the murder of three international aid workers in West Timor in September, the Indonesian military was ordered to disarm all militias.
In December, U.N. liaison officers were informed by the Indonesian military that the leaders of Combat Lafaek had been arrested, said Maj. Ian Peek, a spokesman for the 7,000-strong force.
However, according to Lopes de Carvalho, the paramilitaries remain armed and ready to strike.
“Combat Lafaek is just waiting for the right time,” he said.
Peacekeepers say they are concerned the current lull in activity could mean the militants are laying low in preparation for the withdrawal of the U.N. administration after East Timor achieves full independence next year.
“Although they are quiet, we know they
are still there, they still have weapons and their leaders are still there,”
The world body plans to retain a reduced peacekeeping force in East Timor after the transitional administration leaves.