|Subject: AFP: In small East Timor town, refugees
fill church grounds again
Date: Sat, 10 Jul 1999 16:42:58 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <email@example.com>
Received from Joyo Indonesian News:
In small East Timor town, refugees fill church grounds again
SUAI, East Timor, July 4 (AFP) - After a lull of a few months, refugees fleeing terror and intimidation by armed pro-Indonesia militias have again begun to fill the grounds of a church in this small town in troubled East Timor.
At the weekend, more than 400 people camped on the grounds of the church in Suai or sheltered at the unfinished cathedral building there.
A local resident, who declined to be identified said the latest to seek shelter in the church were 30 people who had come down from months of hiding in the forests of the area on Friday.
The group arrived escorted by UN personnel from the Beco area.
On Thursday, 92 people had arrived in the church, joining some 300 people who had come in the previous few days, the resident said.
The regional coordinator for the Suai area for the UN Mission in East Timor (UNAMET), Asbjorn Jan Devold, confirmed that the UN personnel had "helped escort people back" from Beco.
Antonio Alves, one of the 30 new arrivals, said he had hidden in the mountains for two months after fleeing his village, fearing violence and intimidation by armed pro-Indonesia militia in the area.
"We came down because the United Nations is already here. We are not afraid anymore," Alves said.
But Osorio Soares, one of the men had already been holing up at the Suai church for days, said that fear was still strong in Suai.
"We cannot yet get out of this church because in the village we cannot sleep at night.
"Outside, there is still terror and intimidations," Soares said.
Between January and March, over 1,500 refugees packed the same church ground, fleeing similar terror and intimidations. Others sought safety to in towns further away including to Dili, the capital of East Timor some 105 kilometres (65 miles) northeast of here.
They had returned home gradually in March and April but a new flow of refugees have started to arrive to the same church again in the past few days, the resident said.
Soares spoke of gunshots fired in the air by militias just outside Suai. He claimed the militias "still have a lot of weapons," adding he had seen several types of rifles and guns carried by militia members.
Another man, who declined to be named, said that in his village in Fatolulic, militias killed pigs belonging to villagers to eat them and forced them to hand over their harvest of honey.
"The people left their houses before UNAMET went there, because they had been intimidated by the militias. They were told not to meet with UNAMET personnel," the man said.
The resident said that Mahidi militia members have been distributing black T-shirts with the name of the militia writen on them and told the people to wear them. They also distributed the red-and-white Indonesian flag and force people in the area to fly them.
But unlike in several other towns, where local militias attacked or harrassed UN posts and personnel, the militias in Suai had left the UNAMET personnel there in peace.
"Everything has been relatively quite here. We have nothing to complain about," Devold said.
The attack on a UN outpost in Maliana some 42 kilometres (26 miles) north of Suai on Tuesday, that left one UN poll officer and seven others injured, had slighlty disturbed the UNAMET operations in Suai.
"After the incident in Maliana, we had to put everything on hold for two days," Devold said, but he added that the post has resumed its normal operation after that.
The UNAMET has been deployed in the troubled territory to help hold a ballot in August to determine whether the population of the former Portuguese territory which Indonesia invaded in 1975, would accept broad autonomy under Indonesia.
Jakarta has said that it may free East Timor if the autonomy offer was rejected.