It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over in East Timor

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The problem with proxy armies is that they don't always pack up and go home when their sponsors do. The Indonesian military may have officially given up the ghost in East Timor, but their local militia allies on Thursday began menacing international peacekeepers, firing weapons into the air and massing for an attack in the capital, Dili. Australian troops, who make up the bulk of the United Nations force, came under sniper fire at a house where they were quartered, and even more worrying for the international soldiers were reports that Indonesian troops had fired their weapons near a peacekeeping detachment. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

The peacekeepers' grip on the island remains tenuous they control only Dili's port, its airport and the U.N. compound, and the airport at the second city of Baucau, and haven't yet landed significant armor and that increases the temptation of militiamen and any renegade Indonesian forces to strike now. While international pressure may have given Indonesia more to lose than to gain by holding on to East Timor, the same isn't true for the militiamen. The unearthing Wednesday of a grisly massacre site where up to 30 victims had been beheaded underscores the fact that some militia leaders may face trial for human rights abuses. There are a lot of hardened men with guns and nothing to lose.