INDEPENDENT NEWS

Be Afraid - Media Welcomed To Dili By Death

Published: Thu 23 Sep 1999 12:22 PM
The danger inherent in 'operation stabilise' was hammered home yesterday to the estimated 100 international news media who have accompanied the Australian/Thai led UN peace-keeping mission to East Timor.
But the first casualty was not one of the 2000+ heavily armed peace-keepers, he was a Dutch journalist reporting for the London based Financial Times newspaper.
In an on-camera interview broadcast by the BBC last night, the rider of the motorcycle taxi which carried Sander Thoenes to his death said he had been challenged by two men dressed in TNI - Indonesian Military - uniform. He had not stopped - because he wanted to save the journalist - but they then started shooting, he said.
Today Thoenes was found lying in the street in in Dili's Becora district an area thought to be a 'militia' controlled area. He had an ear missing and his blood covered note-book was beside him.
He went missing yesterday evening - day two of 'operation stabilise'. The UN mandated peace keeping force invited in by the Indonesian Government on September 12 after it apparently lost control of militia units and 'rogue elements' in the TNI inside East Timor.
Following the discovery of the body the commander of the peace-keeping mission Major General Peter Cosgrove warned - as refugees streamed back into the capital from the surrounding hills - that Dili was far from safe yet, and that their appeared to be a resurgence in 'militia' activity.
Whether he is equally concerned about 'rogue elements' in the TNI is a question as yet unanswered.
Late yesterday NZT details of the peace-keeping force's first apparent contact with what may have been a 'rogue' unit began to emerge.
Early this morning East Timor time - around 5.30am NZT - the peace-keepers 'rescued' two more journalists - a reporter and a photographer - from what one the rescued journalists later said looked like it was a TNI unit.
'They said they were East Timorese army' he told the BBC.
In initial reports the first real test of the peace-keeping operation it was descibed as being against a 'militia' unit who had taken the journalists prisoner.
The dead of the night rescue operation reportedly involved a crack army team working in the middle of the night with an armored personnel carrier in support.
Scoop's attempts to contact the official Australian Defence Force spokesman to clarify who exactly they believe they rescued the journalists from have so far been unsuccessful.
There were more signs of tension inside the Indonesian military on the ground in Dili today with the burning of a TNI barracks -- the second arson of an army barracks in two days.
Alastair Thompson
Scoop Publisher
Alastair Thompson is the co-founder of Scoop. He is of Scottish and Irish extraction and from Wellington, New Zealand. Alastair has 24 years experience in the media, at the Dominion, National Business Review, North & South magazine, Straight Furrow newspaper and online since 1997. He is the winner of several journalism awards for business and investigative work.
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