Subject: SMH: Timor refugees still face harassment

also: [The Australian] TNI denies harrying refugees

Sydney Morning Herald Monday, December 13, 1999

Refugees still face harassment

By HAMISH MCDONALD Foreign Editor in Dili

The Australian commander of the United Nations peacekeeping force in East Timor has appealed for the international community to continue to pressure Indonesia to allow the remaining 100,000 displaced people in West Timor to return home.

At the same time, Interfet Commander Major-General Peter Cosgrove revealed he has written to his Indonesian counterpart across the border, detailing specific instances of pro-Indonesian militias harassing refugees preparing to return.

In the same letter, General Cosgrove also complained about the behaviour of the Indonesian Army's district commander in charge of the border region around the enclave of Oecussi.

The latest incident of militia harassment came at the refugee camp in Labur, 50 kilometres south of Atambua in West Timor, on Thursday as the camp's East Timorese were preparing to board a convoy of trucks sent to take them home.

''Militia turned up, and the TNI [Indonesian military] did nothing to prevent the militia from intimidating people. One family made it out,'' General Cosgrove said yesterday.

The setback came only two days after the Interfet leader held a meeting at the border village of Batugade with the new commander of Indonesia's Udayana military district covering West Timor, Major-General Kiki Syahnakri. East Timorese resistance leader Mr Xanana Gusmao also attended the meeting, which aimed to lay out a path for the return of displaced people and reconciling pro-Indonesian groups.

Speaking of last Thursday's incident, General Cosgrove said: ''It's a great frustration, and I think the international community needs to ... keep a focus on the fact that there's 100,000 East Timorese still dispossessed, displaced ...''.

General Cosgrove has written to General Syahnakri detailing two instances where the district commander of Kefamenanu, Lieutenant-Colonel Manurung, had shown partisanship with militias and harassed people returning to the Oecussi enclave.

During one incident 10 days ago, Australian troops at the Oecussi border detained a suspected militia leader attempting to return with a group of refugees.

Five minutes later, a militia leader named Amoco Soares arrived at the border post and incited Indonesian Army troops to threaten the Australian troops unless the man was returned.

An Australian corporal calmed the tension and the two bodies of troops moved back from their close contact positions.

However, on another recent occasion the Indonesian local commander, Colonel Manurung, told Australian officers in Oecussi that he would stop the return of all displaced people to the enclave unless a detained militia leader, the brother of Amoco Soares, was released.

Only about 13,000 of the enclave's population of 52,000 have so far returned.

Despite the incidents, General Cosgrove expressed confidence that the situation would improve with the appointment of General Syahnakri as regional commander. General Syahnakri had been commander in Dili when Indonesian forces were withdrawing from East Timor.

''I put on the record that I was very appreciative of his determination to navigate through a very difficult period when there was a large number of TNI soldiers here, many of whom were East Timorese, and who plainly had great difficulty accepting the election outcome and their own orders to leave East Timor,'' he said.

''This was a difficult period for all involved, one in which possibility of misadventure was great. and it needed careful monitoring and precautions from TNI leadership, and General Syahnakri came through.''

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The Australian 13 Dec 99

TNI denies harrying refugees

By Foreign affairs writer ROBERT GARRAN in Dili

INTERFET Commander Major-General Peter Cosgrove has stepped up pressure on the Indonesian military (TNI) to prevent the harassment of East Timorese refugees in West Timor wanting to return home.

Major-General Cosgrove has written to Indonesia's military commander in West Timor, Major-General Kiki Syahnakri, outlining several incidents in which the TNI failed to prevent militia groups impeding the return of refugees to East Timor.

After a meeting last week with Major-General Cosgrove and East Timorese independence leader Xanana Gusmao, Major-General Syahnakri said there was no impediment to refugees returning, and agreed to set up procedures to allow them to do so.

But aid workers and others in contact with refugees returning from West Timor say many still remain afraid because of Indonesian propaganda that when they do return they will be harassed by Interfet.

Mr Gusmao met yesterday with militia leaders at the border of West Timor to discuss ways of ensuring refugees could return.

Major-General Cosgrove said yesterday there were reports that TNI had directly prevented refugees from crossing the border.

In one incident, "people were apparently being denied the opportunity to cross into the (Oecussi) enclave by TNI, close to the border", he said.

"There may be reasons that could be demonstrated for that, but it just looked to us that IDPs (internally displaced persons) were being prevented from crossing by soldiers."

In his letter, Major-General Cosgrove described one incident in which aid workers sent a convoy of trucks to a refugee camp at Labur.

"They entered the camp and it looked as though a very large number of people would be very happy to jump on the trucks," Major-General Cosgrove said yesterday.

"Militia turned up, and the TNI did nothing to prevent the militia from intimidating people. One family made it out," he said.

Major-General Cosgrove criticised by name an Indonesian officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Manurung, for his handling of refugees.

"There's been a range of incidents that tell us that his control of the militia activities is imperfect and unsatisfactory from our viewpoint," Major-General Cosgrove said.

"Most recently, there have been suggestions of extortion taking place very close to the border, where we would think TNI should be able to prevent that."

"I asked General Syahnakri if he would look into the circumstances carefully. I believe that General Syahnakri is very conscious of the IDP issue and I believe he is committed to making sure IDPs get free choice and urgent resolution."

Major-General Cosgrove would not say whether he accepted Major-General Syahnakri's assurances that East Timorese were free to return home. "I only deal in what we see and observe," he said. "I'd need to ask people who have contact with IDPs, 'what is happening on the ground?'. Where I see that statement by TNI is not given effect on the ground, then it's not working."


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