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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

UN Staff Injured In Timor Violence

DILI, Indonesia -- A rock-throwing mob attacked UN staff and ransacked their office during an anti-independence protest Tuesday in East Timor, injuring several people, a UN official said.

It was the first violence against officials supervising a planned referendum on the troubled territory's future. They blamed militiamen who support Indonesian rule.

Indonesia, responsible for security in East Timor, denied it was a direct attack against the United Nations, calling it a confrontation between pro- and anti-independence rivals that got out of hand.

Faction leaders are holding peace talks in Jakarta. They reportedly reached agreement Tuesday on disarmament but must settle other issues before the meetings end Wednesday.

Ian Martin, the head of the UN Assistance Mission in East Timor, or UNAMET, said one UN official and as many as nine East Timorese were injured in Maliana, near the border with West Timor about 60 kilometers southwest of the territorial capital, Dili. Police said at least four had been hurt.

"This was not a spontaneous event,'' Martin said at a news conference when asked if the attack was meant to stymie preparations for the referendum.

Most of the 30 UN workers were evacuated to Dili on three helicopters.

The UN office was one of eight set up across East Timor in the past two weeks to prepare for a ballot to determine whether East Timor will become independent or gain autonomy within Indonesia.

The UN-supervised vote, originally scheduled for Aug. 8, has been delayed at least two weeks by security and logistical concerns.

UNAMET spokesman David Wimhurst accused anti-independence militiamen of fomenting the violence after making repeated threats against UN personnel.

"Militiamen whipped up the crowd into a frenzy and they attacked the office,'' Wimhurst said. "Hundreds of people descended upon the office.'' Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Sulaiman Abdulmanan warned Wimhurst not to speak prematurely.

"He did not see the incident himself. To be neutral, he should first coordinate with Indonesian officials there to find out the real truth about the incident,'' Abdulmanan said.

Wimhurst said UNAMET chief of security Colin Connor flew to Maliana, an anti-independence stronghold, to assess the situation. Residents said nine houses were torched by anti-independence militiamen Monday night.

Indonesian police said about 300 pro- and anti-independence supporters pelted each other with rocks.''

It began as a group of youths blocked some pro-independence activists from entering the UNAMET office,'' said an officer, who identified himself only as Fernandez.

Dozens have been killed in politically motivated violence the past two months alone in the former Portuguese colony that Indonesia invaded in 1975. Thousands have fled to the jungle, fearing attacks. UNAMET plans to start voter registration in July but says the territory must get security under control and reign in anti-independence militias active in the half-island province's interior.