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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Violence Erupts in East Timor Market




DILI, Indonesia -- Shots rang out over Dili's main market for a second straight day as hundreds of separatist activists and anti-independence militiamen fought in East Timor's capital on Monday. At least one man was killed and several people were wounded.


Gunfire was also heard in other parts of Dili, including near the University of East Timor and a cemetery. Squads of riot police were sent to the market and fired warning shots.


Witnesses saw truckloads of militiamen, many carrying weapons, driving toward the market around lunchtime. Others marched toward the same area.


Most carried knives, swords and homemade weapons. Others were armed with machine-made rifles.


An Associated Press Television News cameraman was punched in the face by rioters as he filmed the body of a man shot near the market. Another man was taken to a clinic with a bullet wound.


An 18-year-old man said militiamen shot at him but missed as he rode on a motorcycle near the house of Bishop Carlos Belo, co-winner of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize. The man fell off the bike and was taken to a clinic for treatment of his cuts and bruises.


In some parts of town, pro-independence activists burned tires in the streets. By afternoon, many parts of town were empty as troops patrolled.


On Sunday, hundreds of pro and anti-independence supporters clashed when militiamen allegedly shot and killed one man after a riot in the market.


The escalating attacks threaten to undermine United Nations efforts to bring peace to the troubled region. UN officials have begun preparations for a crucial August ballot on whether East Timor will break away from Indonesia, which invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975.


Belo said it would be unwise to hold the ballot because of the violence and advocated a longer transitional period.


"In this climate of violence, you cannot have a free and fair election," he said. "So it is necessary first of all to disarm the militias and [the separatist rebels] and then to organize a dialogue for reconciliation. Then you can do the direct ballot."


About 300 UN police advisers are to help Indonesian police maintain security. Pro-independence groups say UN peacekeeping troops should be sent in.


They accuse sections of the Indonesian military of arming and training militiamen to derail the ballot. The army, which has been accused of human rights abuses, has denied this.


There have also been reports of militia groups intimidating people into voting against independence.


Om Rathor, the UN's chief police adviser, did not comment on the recent violence. Rathor, who is visiting Dili, said only that the job of UN personnel will be to ensure that local police officers operate professionally and responsibly.


On Monday, large groups of militiamen, many wearing headbands in Indonesia's national red and white, congregated outside their headquarters only a few hundred meters from the territorial governor's office and across the street from an Indonesian military barracks.


About one kilometer away, several hundred students rallied peacefully for independence.


A prominent militia leader, Eurico Guterres, told reporters that anti-independence supporters stormed the Mercado Lama market on Sunday in retaliation for an attack against them by pro-independence groups.


Guterres defended Sunday's violence, saying that those who were in favor of staying within Indonesia were vulnerable to attacks from pro-independence forces who have fought a guerrilla war against Indonesia for 23 years.


The United Nations has called on both sides to surrender their weapons before the poll on Aug. 8.


Pro-independence rebels have said they won't disarm until Indonesia's army withdraws from East Timor.