Subject: IPS: Refugees Still Held in W Timor Despite Border Pact

EAST TIMOR: Refugees Still Held in West Timor Despite Border Pact

By Sonny Inbaraj

DARWIN, Australia, Dec 3 (IPS) - Conditions in camps housing East Timorese refugees in neighbouring Indonesia-controlled West Timor still remain dire, according to an aid worker.

This despite a warning issued by the United States to Jakarta that the international community would judge Indonesia's transition to democracy by its behaviour toward East Timorese refugees and the signing of a border agreement to speed up their return home.

Ian Douglas, an aid worker who returned Wednesday from the West Timor capital of Kupang, said here the terror from the orgy of killing and destruction by the pro-Indonesia militias that began on Sept 4 had been transferred to West Timor.

''The same victims are there, the same perpetrators are there, the same terror tactics are being employed,'' he said.

''Hundreds and probably thousands of young women have been taken from the refugee camps to the militia camps, where they are kept for militia sexual gratification,'' added Douglas. ''These women do not usually return and it is possible some of them will later disappear.''

Douglas said the militias were preventing aid agencies from entering areas where refugees were camped, especially in West Timor's Belu district.

He added: ''In this way the militias can control refugees, so that they cannot return to East Timor, and simultaneously can serve as the means for militia self-gain and gratification.''

About 260,000 people were either deported to West Timor or fled there to escape the militia violence which erupted after the Sept 4 announcement of the results of the UN-sponsored Aug 30 referendum.

The outcome of the poll favoured East Timor separation from Indonesia by an overwhelming 78.5 per cent, against 21.5 per cent opting to remain with Jakarta but with broad autonomy.

The United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor (UNTAET) will administer the territory until an independent state is established in two to three years. The proposed UNTAET 10,000- strong force is scheduled to arrive this month, a quarter century after Indonesia invaded the territory.

Douglas said it was the intention of the militias, whom he claimed were still supported by the Indonesian military (TNI) to prevent the return of the East Timorese to East Timor.

''The militias regard it as important to prevent or delay their return, so that they are unable to restore with help of UNTAET (United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor) the six neighbouring western districts to a peaceful routine of living and farming,'' he said.

The six districts are Liquica, Bobonaro, Covalima, Ermera, Ainaro and Oecusse.

Douglas said he came across reports indicating that 600 militias were being trained by TNI's special forces or Kopassus at Yogyakarta in Central Java. Also, he said, the militias were being trained on Flores island just off West Timor by Korem 164 -- the TNI force previously in East Timor's capital Dili.

The reports could not be confirmed by independent sources.

''Korem 164 is trying to reestablish itself in Flores and they are supporting the militias to do the dirty work for them in the refugee camps in West Timor,'' said Douglas. ''In effect, many of the military elements responsible for the Sept holocaust in East Timor are still actively pursuing their original goals in West Timor, using the same methods.''

On Nov 22, US Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke visited refugee camps in West Timor and warned Indonesia that its response to the problems of the camps would be an indicator of which way the country was moving.

Holbrooke, angry by what he had seen in the camps in the West Timor town of Atambua and the evident fear of the refugees he tried to talk to, compared the militias to the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

He said about 100,000 East Timorese still remained in 140 camps in the areas of Atambua, Kefamenau and Kupang.

''The Indonesians have to move into their democratic era and they cannot do that as long as they are stuck in the mud -- literally -- of the refugee camps, which is the mud of the crimes of the past,'' Holbrooke lashed out.

''If this camp is here in four to six weeks, you will know that the wrong people are controlling events in the military in Indonesia.''

But Ian Douglas said nothing much had changed since Holbrooke's visit and the signing on the same day of a border agreement between the TNI and the UN-sanctioned International Forces for East Timor (Interfet), to speed up the emptying of refugee camps.

''The militias are endeavouring to prevent refugees returning by killing or 'disappearing' certain individuals who state their desire to return to East Timor,'' said Douglas. ''They are also abducting young men, with the help of TNI, and forcing them to become militiamen.''

Added the aid worker: ''The (militias) are spreading the idea that Interfet troops and the pro-independence resistance Falintil will kill and ill-treat returning refugees. They say it's unsafe to return.''

On Wednesday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the number of East Timorese refugees returning from Indonesia had dropped despite Indonesian promises to help speed up their passage.

''We are very shocked,'' UNHCR's Ariane Quentier told reporters in Dili. ''If you look at the figures, they have even got worse.''

Quentier said between 1,000 and 2,000 refugees were returning to East Timor daily now, compared to about 4,000 a day two weeks ago and a peak of 7,000 on Nov 22 when the border agreement was signed.

Indonesian police and the TNI have not done much to change the situation despite the border accord, Quentier said. ''Our access to the camps has not changed much,'' she charged. (END/IPS/ap-hd- pr/si/ral/99)


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