Subject: UN pull foreign staff out of W. Timor border town; Refugees face militia terror

Agence France Presse August 12, 2000

UN pull foreign staff out of West Timor border town

JAKARTA, Aug 12 : Two UN agencies on Saturday pulled most of their foreign staff out of the West Timor border town of Atambua, a day after pro-Jakarta militia encircled and threatened their offices, UN officials said.

The officials, speaking from Kupang, the capital of Indonesian West Timor, said however that police and the military were negotiating with the militia in Atambua, and that no incident had been reported there Saturday.

"At 5.30 this morning our sole expatriate staffer started for Kupang. We advised him to join the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) cars coming down (to Kupang)," International Organization for Migration (IOM) representative Jose Remigio told AFP by phone.

The UNHCR office in Kupang confirmed most of its foreign staff had left Atambua, but declined to call it an evacuation.

"I would say we redeployed the staff ... this was after some threatened demonstration by the Aitarak" militia, Adelmo Risi, a UNHCR representative said.

"They are scheduled to be here (in Kupang) today and tomorrow. When there are security problems, it is better to prevent them," he added, but declined to give the exact number of people pulled out of Atambua.

Neither Risi nor Remigio gave details of the seige of their offices in Atambua on Friday.

But in Geneva UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said the militia had "taunted staff members and threatened to attack the premises."

"Indonesian soldiers were called and the situation was brought under control after several tense hours," he said.

IOM spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy said in Geneva their Atambu office had also been "under siege today by at least 50 machete-wielding Aitarak militia."

"Six staff remained trapped inside the building for several hours before the Indonesian army intervened to disperse the crowd," Chauzy said

Aitarak was involved in attacks in East Timor last year.

The UNHCR has interrupted its refugee repatriation program because of high tension along the border, and Redmond said it would be several days before it resumes.

"The IOM is bracing itself for further attacks on its West Timor staff in the run-up to a major demonstration planned by the militias next Wednesday," Indonesian independence day, Chauzy said.

Indonesian officials announced plans this week to close refugee camps in West Timor immediately and open "transit centres."

Refugees who chose to return home will be taken to "transit centres" along the border, according to the plans, and from there to their final destinations inside East Timor.

The UNHCR was waiting for the next step by Indonesian authorities, and it was "glad that they are beginning to make some moves towards resolving this problem," Redmond said.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan told Indonesia on Friday to stop militiamen infiltrating into East Timor after a Nepalese United Nations peacekeeper was killed in a firefight there.

In a statement, Annan said he was "concerned over the increase in activities by armed personnel" in parts of the territory close to the Indonesian province of West Timor.

Violence flared after the East Timorese voted overwhelmingly in favour of independence from Indonesia in August 1999. Many of the militia chiefs fled into Indonesian-controlled West Timor.

kw/tn/mtp


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