Subject: USCR Calls on Indonesian Government to Disarm Militias in East Timor
Date: Fri, 20 Aug 1999 12:06:25 -0400

U.S. Committee For Refugees Calls On The Indonesian Government

To Disarm Militias Terrorizing East Timorese

In response to the escalating violence in East Timor, which has forced an estimated 40,000 to 85,000 East Timorese from their homes, the U.S. Committee for Refugees recently wrote to the Indonesian government, urging them to disband and disarm the militias that presently hold sway in the former Portuguese colony. USCR wrote to UN Secretary-General Annan as well, urging the UN to lead the international community in bringing pressure to bear on Indonesian president Habibie to recognize and stem the violence, and demand the disbanding of the militias.

Because of the dire conditions that now confront many East Timorese, USCR also called on the Indonesian government to establish a secure environment for the internally displaced, and coordinate with the UN and local humanitarian agencies to provide food and medical aid to those in need of assistance.

The violence and continued intimidation are reported to be a part of a campaign to influence the outcome of the August 30 referendum that will determine the future of East Timor. The UN and the Indonesian government reached an agreement in May that allows East Timorese to vote either for independence from Indonesia, or autonomy under Jakarta. Militias, reportedly backed by the Indonesian army, are forcing thousands of people who have not yet escaped to join them or be killed in an effort to produce an anti-independence outcome for the referendum.

Without pressure from the UN and the rest of the international community, the internally displaced persons of East Timor--who at the last estimate comprise at least 10 percent of the territory's population-will continue to suffer. In addition to these displaced, many previously displaced persons have returned to their homes. Ironically, although these people are no longer counted among the displaced, they are still at risk of persecution at the hands of the militias who originally forced them from their homes.

The referendum, which was originally slated to take place on August 8, is intended to provide a fair and legal environment for East Timor citizens to decide for themselves the future of their region. Should the violence continue to escalate, however, the East Timorese will not be able to register for the vote.

This is no longer merely a question of East Timor's future, but also of its present: there are recent reports of malaria outbreaks in the displaced persons camp in the Sare area, with up to seven out of every ten people contracting the disease. Hunger has driven some East Timorese to West Timor, where they come under direct control of the paramilitary forces.

It is not sufficient for the UN to delay the referendum until August 30, hoping for conditions to improve. Clearly, the attack of an aid convoy on July 4, and the threats made to one of the UN registration offices in East Timor by the militias, have demonstrated that the Indonesian government refuses to recognize the neutrality of UN and humanitarian officials. If these aid workers, even with the backing of the international community and supplementary security, are threatened, plainly the people of East Timor are in danger beyond the hunger and illness that have already battered the population.

The U.S Committee for Refugees (USCR) is a private, non-governmental organization that defends the rights of refugees and asylum seekers worldwide.

Jana Mason Policy Analyst/Congressional Liaison 
U.S. Committee for Refugees 
1717 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Suite 200 
Washington, D.C. 20036, USA 
tel: (1) 202-347-3507 fax: (1) 202-347-3418 
e-mail: jmason@irsa-uscr.org, internet: www.refugees.org

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