Subject: WP: Report on West and East Timor

December 8, 1999, Wednesday, Final Edition

DIPLOMATIC DISPATCHES Nora Boustany, Washington Post Foreign Service

Report From East Timor

An American relief worker who arrived Sunday from East Timor described horrific conditions in resettlement camps she visited across the border in western Timor, where she said she saw mass graves of children, and refugees living as the virtual hostages of Indonesian soldiers and local militias.

"Outside Atambua, I saw a grave with 24 children aged between 2 months to 6 years," said Pamela Sexton. The cause of death, she was told, was diarrhea. "The biggest concern is the health of children," she added. Most international aid agencies are unable to operate in western Timor because of threats from the Indonesian military and the militias they support, she said.

Sexton said she entered camps in the southern and central parts of western Timor, and those adjacent to the East Timorese border, in October and November. Thousands of East Timorese remain trapped in makeshift camps with nothing but tarpaulins as shelter, three months after they were driven from East Timor by rampaging Indonesian forces, Sexton said in an interview Monday.

Several refugees who tried to cross into East Timor were shot, she said. "In one horrible case, refugees saw severed heads spiked on sticks in late September as a warning sign of what might happen to them," Sexton said. In the camps, women would approach her, touch her hand and quietly ask if she could help them escape. "The minute a militiaman with a pro-Indonesia T-shirt would show up, each woman would change her story, saying, 'Things are good. Everything is fine.' This kept happening at every camp," she said.

The Indonesian forces are carrying out a disinformation campaign to discourage leaving the camps, Sexton said. Refugees are being told it is "very unsafe in East Timor. They tell them that men, women and children are being separated and the men are killed, taken out and dumped into the sea." She added that they live in fear of being targeted as pro-independence.

Conditions along the border were the worst, said Sexton, a former U.N. observer in East Timor who served as the U.S. coordinator for the International Federation for East Timor Observer Project during the Aug. 30 referendum on East Timor's independence from Indonesia. She witnessed the violence and the exodus and returned with Grassroots International, an international development group, to assess reconstruction needs and visit western Timor.


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