J A K A R T A, Indonesia, Sept. 6, 2000 -- Thousands of armed militiamen and their supporters rampaged through the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in West Timor today, killing at least three workers and burning their bodies.
The brutal attack brought new pressure against Indonesia’s president as he gathered with world leaders at the United Nations. (See related story)
Four U.N. helicopters swooped down in the border town of Suai in Atambua, West Timor and safely evacuated 54 people to East Timor, but world leaders quickly and harshly castigated Indonesia for not doing more to protect aid workers.
Suai is where Trevor Rees-Jones, the only survivor of the car crash that killed Princess Diana, has just taken up the post of deputy head of security. Rees-Jones, an ex-paratrooper, was the princess’ bodyguard.
Rees-Jones’ role in the mission, if any, was not known.
The Indonesian government and military were accused of doing nothing to stop today’s bloodshed just across the border, where thousands of armed pro-Indonesian militia gang members and their supporters stormed the U.N. office.
Witnesses said at least three foreign U.N. workers were beaten to death by militiamen, who then burned their bodies in the street.
A military intelligence officer said the “partly burnt” bodies of the U.N. workers from Croatia, Ethiopia and Puerto Rico had been taken to the Atambua public hospital.
The building was also set on fire by the mob angered by the unsolved death a day earlier of a prominent militia leader who was accused of committing atrocities in East Timor last year.
Aid and other agencies in West Timor had only just resumed their activities after pulling out because of the frequent attacks on the U.N. staff there. Their job is to repatriate the thousands of East Timorese who were taken hostages and driven into West Timor during last year’s murderous militia raids, which followed an East Timor’s independence vote.
Indonesia’s government has promised repeatedly to disarm the militias, but appears incapable of doing so. As during the conflict in East Timor, the militia appears to have the support of Indonesian military factions in the area.
The militia in Atambua began the rampage during the funeral and ensuing demonstration to protest the killing by unknown assailants Tuesday of one of their leaders, Olivio Mendosa Muruk.
Sgt. Joseph Carvalo said as many as 3,000 mourners took Muruk’s body to Atambua and staged a protest outside the UNHCR’s office. Indonesia had promised ahead of the demonstration to protect U.N. installations.
It was not immediately clear why the violence flared or why the U.N. workers were targeted. However, witnesses said some crowd members accused the United Nations of ignoring their plight.
Militia aggression has risen since Indonesia announced its intention of closing the refugee camps, where they hide out, within three months.
The 7,900 peacekeepers in East Timor have given new rules of engagement, allowing them to shoot to kill when necessary. This follows the recent deaths of two peacekeepers in clashes with the West Timor militiamen who regularly cross the border and terrorize local towns and villages.
About 250,000 East Timorese fled East Timor for dozens of border refugee camps in West Timor a year ago to escape violence by Indonesian troops and their militia allies who opposed a U.N.-supervised vote for East Timor’s independence.
The violence continued until international peacekeepers landed in East Timor on Sept. 20. Since then, nearly 170,000 refugees have returned from West Timor.
ABCNEWS’ Sue Masterman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.