Subject: E.Timor Braces For Flood of Refugees If Indon Keeps Promise

Australian Broadcasting Corporation AM News - Thursday, September 21, 2000 8:18 -transcript-

East Timor braces itself for flood of refugees if Indonesia keeps promise to disarm militia

COMPERE: Well, East Timor is bracing for the worst if Indonesia acts on that promise to disarm and repress the militia in West Timor. That could see tens of thousands of refugees flooding across East Timor's border en masse.

From Dili, Geoff Thompson reports.

GEOFF THOMPSON: A cork board on the wall at the Dili headquarters of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees is now hidden behind print-outs of e-mails describing sorrow and support. At the centre of these outpourings are the three men whose portraits hang in line outside the office of the UNHCR's East Timor chief. Carlos Caseras, Samson Aregahegn and Pero Simundza were brutally slain in West Timor two weeks ago. All of them were close friends of the man in this office, Bernard Kerblatt.

BERNARD KERBLATT: Personally I believe that they should not have died in vain, and put yourself two seconds in the hands of a Timorese widow in the most remote rural camp squalid conditions anywhere in West Timor, without knowing what tomorrow will be made of.

GEOFF THOMPSON: In New York yesterday, Indonesia's Security Minister said his nation's police and army would begin forcibly disarming the militia by next Tuesday. But such promises have proven empty before. With the United States weighing in with threats of a financial fall-out for Indonesia if it doesn't act, the stakes are getting stark and steep. A crackdown could spark chaos or an orderly return. Either way East Timor's refugee support services are geared up for the worst.

Bernard Kerblatt:

BERNARD KERBLATT: We've already started planning for the worst case scenario, the worst case scenario being a massive return of refugees over a short period of time and impacting on East Timor, and with our stretched resources, the worst case scenario would consist of what can we do in order to receive these people under the best conditions and try to avert any further loss of life and make sure that this happens in as orderly as possible manner.

GEOFF THOMPSON: In Dili and at key points along the border, new transit facilities are being built, and the UNHCR, along with other agencies, has enough food and essential items on hand to supply 100,000 people. Peacekeeping forces will play a key role if the potentially massive scale of a West Timor exodus comes true, checking for weapons and protecting Indonesians who may also flee any instability.

From the transit points to the village level, East Timor is braced for an influx. But all the readiness in the world will count for naught if the militia are not reined in, militia that last week were said not to exist by the same man who has now promised to repress them.

This is Geoff Thompson in Dili for AM.

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