Human Rights Watch today called on all major donors to the United Nations operation in East Timor to step up pressure on the Indonesian armed forces to disband civilian militias in East Timor. The donors should also press the Indonesian government to prosecute militia leaders responsible for attacks on U.N. offices to the fullest extent of the law.

Human Rights Watch also called on multilateral financial institutions to suspend any further disbursements of aid to Indonesia until the Habibie government takes more serious moves than it has thus far to curb militia violence. It noted that the civilian militias in East Timor have operated since their inception with the backing of the Indonesian military.

"These attacks are jeopardizing the whole U.N. mission in East Timor,"said Sidney Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "The question is whether donors are going to wring their hands quietly or read the riot act to Habibie."

On June 29, members of a pro-Indonesia militia in Maliana, west of Dili, threw rocks at the U.N. office there, injuring twelve East Timorese and a South African woman working as a U.N. district electoral official. There had been a clash the night before between militia members and independence supporters. Most of the injuries suffered were minor; one of the East Timorese reportedly had his arm broken. Two U.N. vehicles and several nearby houses were also attacked. Local police made no effort to disperse the attackers, and there were reports of Indonesian army personnel among the militia members.

On June 30, militia members armed with rifles, spears, and other weapons, some of them masked, threatened U.N. staff members in Viqueque, a district east of the capital, with death if they didn't vacate the premises. Several of the U.N. staff were evacuated to Dili as a result.

These were only the latest in a series of violent incidents involving army-backed militias in East Timor. Jones acknowledged that pro-independence groups have also been responsible for some violence but said the militia attacks were more frequent, more organized, and supported by the state, through the involvement of Indonesian army and police.