Subject: AFP: East Timor peace troops land in ruined city
Date: Sat, 25 Sep 1999 08:55:01 -0400

also: For most East Timorese refugees, hope of return depends on UN force

East Timor peace troops land in ruined city

DILI, East Timor, Sept 20 (AFP) - Peacekeepers piled out of transport planes Monday into the burned-out ruins of this city and began their mission to bring help to frightened refugees and face off anti-independence militias.

But the militia gangs who unleashed a campaign of terror after the August 30 vote for independence appeared to have completed a withdrawal begun as the troops approached -- virtually none were sighted by reporters in the capital Sunday.

However, hundreds of the refugees the militias had chased from their homes remained, sheltering in flimsy shacks set up among gutted buildings and along the harbour in areas strewn with piles of garbage.

Barefoot and haggard-looking children wandered along the bay as Indonesian naval vessels prepared to ship them and their families to Kupang in neighbouring West Timor.

Indonesian military authorities said Sunday they wanted the squalid camps cleared from the points where the foreign troops would arrive, but by Monday they had only succeeded in emptying the airport terminal.

When the first peacekeepers landed in an air convoy at first light and secured the building, the terminal stank of excrement and urine, a sign of the appalling conditions the refugees had endured.

In the capital, Indonesian marines and army soldiers ensured security was extremely tight.

Apart from the military activity, only refugees were seen wandering the streets, some of an estimated 10,000 in the capital.

Up to 190,000 others are believed to have fled into the jungles and mountains. Around 200,000 have also fled to Indonesian West Timor.

East Timor military commander Colonel Noer Muis, the top Indonesian soldier in the territory until martial law was ordered by Jakarta, said Sunday the refugees would be moved from the strategic entry points to be used by the peacekeepers.

"For those who are willing to be evacuated, we will evacuate them to Kupang," he said.

But early Monday there were still at least a thousand displaced people around the bay, where the lack of sanitation facilities had also created a sickening stench. People there looked thin, tired and miserable.

They made shelters out of whatever they could scavenge -- cardboard, plastic and the rubble of buildings laid waste when the militia went on the rampage, enraged by the vote to break from Indonesia.

Nevertheless the Roman Catholic Bishop of Dili, Nobel Laureate Carlos Ximenes Belo, said the despatch of the peacekeepers had brought new hope to the population.

"I dream of seeing mothers with their children in their arms, children playing and the schools open," he said in his Sunday homily in Lisbon.

His optimistic tone constrasted sharply to a week ago when he arrived in Portugal after he fled East Timor as his home in Dili was attacked and burned.

Then he said that when East Timor's independence leader Xanana Gusmao "arrives in Timor as president, only trees, stones, plants and animals will remain".

Now, however, there was "a new hope", he said.

Major General Peter Cosgrove, the Australian commander of the International Force for East Timor (Interfet), has said one of his priorities is to bring humanitarian aid to sick and starving refugees, especially those in outlying areas.

Australian Defence Minister John Moore said Monday the peacekeepers would begin setting up humanitarian services after they secured their positions.

"The objective is first of all to secure their positions, then to secure the positions of the United Nations unit there, then to broadly spread out round the community ... restore law and order and allow humanitarian services," he said in a television interview.


For most East Timorese refugees, hope of return depends on UN force

KUPANG, Indonesian West Timor, Sept 20 (AFP) - Maria Carvalho, one of almost 200,000 refugees from militia violence in East Timor, says she left four of her seven children behind in the chaos of the evacuation one week ago.

"I want to go home to Timtim (East Timor) because my four other children are there," Carvalho said.

She was speaking over the din of babies crying and meals being prepared in family groups crowded on the circular floor and rising tiers of seats of the Gor Flobamora Oepoi indoor stadium housing some 6,000 refugees here.

Carvalho said she left the East Timor capital by air one week ago, along with 12 other families, all of whom had left some members at home. Only her three youngest, one of which she cradled in her arms, were with her.

She did not say much more.

Young men with weapons ill-concealed under their clothes crowded an AFP reporter who accompanied Sadako Ogato, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, on her first assessment trip here on Friday.

Though they wore no insignia, the distance the refugees stayed from them indicated they were the same militia that forced many of them to evacuate at gunpoint after the August 30 independence vote.

Ogata said the sight at the stadium was familiar -- the dazed look of people in their first week in the camps.

"That (stadium) reminded me of Kosovo and Bosnia, but the situation here is much more complex. In Kosovo, everyone wanted to go back," she said, adding that it would take time here to determine what people wanted to do, and whether they could chose.

"What I am saying is that people have to be able to choose whether to go back or not," she emphasized time and again as she met with local officials, accompanied by Social Welfare Coordinating Minister Haryono Suyono and West Timor governor Piet Tallo.

"It's a lot of work (ahead) to bring people back together," she said, a reference both to divided families and to the bitter scorched earth backlash from the militia who eventually poured over the border with the refugees.

What the refugees decided -- whether to return home to the East or take up the Indonesian government's offer of resettlement in neighbouring Indonesian islands such as Flores and Sumba -- would depend on time and circumstances, and be subject to its own vote.

"It is a self-determination of a kind that was carried out by the UN (the August 30 vote). Kosovo was mostly a return ... The people would vote with their feet by deciding where to go."

Tallo, whose has a well-earned reputation as governor, said the situation in West Timor was difficult.

"In my heart I hope there will be reconciliation. It will take time," he said when asked if the militia and the anti-independence refugees could not be separated from the pro-independence side.

Minister Suyono also pledged to Ogata that the refugees would be given a free choice.

But when Ogata landed at the border town of Atambua, where more than half of the evacuees are camped in tents -- in the open and at schools, churches, private houses and a half-finished stadium -- a top militia leader, Eurico Guterres, was among the official greeting party.

Said a European diplomat on the trip: "There may be no other way for the authorities in West Timor for now than to cooperate with the militia."

Minister Suyono confirmed the dilemma for the government.

Suyono said he had asked Guterres for his cooperation "for humanitarian reasons without politics" to help provide security for Ogata, who is determined to get her people on the ground and start helping provide food, medicine and decent accomodation.

Humanitarian aid to West Timor was needed first, until the UN-mandated multinational force could stabilize the situation in the East, where the UNHCR has already started working with the thousands of refugees who stayed behind in the hills there.

World Leaders Contact List The East Timorese need you to speak out for them

Back to September Menu
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu
Search Postings
1998 (+January & February '99) Postings