Subject: Militia Threats May Force Out UN Staff

Sydney Morning Herald Thursday, November 11, 1999

Militia threats may force out UN staff

By PAUL DALEY, Herald Correspondent in Dili

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is considering withdrawing staff from parts of the Indonesian-controlled West Timor border amid rapidly increasing threats of violence from militia intent on stopping East Timorese refugees going home.

A UNHCR spokeswoman, Ms Ariane Quentier, yesterday said UN staff had been subject to 18 serious security incidents in the past 10 days, including being pelted with stones and threatened by machete- and spear-wielding militia.

She said the increased militia activity at the border town of Atambua had deterred thousands of refugees from registering with the UNHCR to go home, and potentially threatened the lives of her colleagues.

At a refugee camp near the West Timor capital, Kupang, on Monday three militia dressed as Indonesian troops (TNI) said they had orders to stop people leaving the camps.

''I believe at least 70 per cent of those people would want to go back to East Timor and we were thinking of moving over 3,000 of them,'' Ms Quentier said. ''By the end of Monday, after those people being at the entrance, we only had two people [refugees] who left the camp and went over to the transit centre.''

Indonesian police and the TNI did nothing to deter such intimidation, she said, adding that the UNHCR's representative in Jakarta had written to Indonesia's Foreign Minister ''deploring that there has been no effort to intervene and arrest the perpetrators of these incidents''.

''We have reached a very worried state with insecurity in Atambua, but also in Kupang,'' Ms Quentier said.

Asked if the UNHCR had withdrawn staff from the volatile areas, she said: ''Not yet, not yet ... because we also believe that the people we are extracting, and that's the work our teams over there are doing, are also in great danger if they stay there.

''This is a race against time trying to get as many people as possible out. We might have to do it [withdraw] eventually.

''To quote our colleagues in West Timor, it is deteriorating by the day.''

The UNHCR's reports of militia activity concur with Interfet fears that while East Timor is largely free of the militia, a number of the groups are rearming and training in large numbers - unhindered by the Indonesian security forces - just over the West Timor border.

But despite the escalating militia activity, at least 1,000 refugees a day continue to leave West Timor by ferry and another 200 were expected to be met by Interfet troops at the border crossing at Batugade yesterday.

Interfet's chief of staff, Colonel Mark Kelly, yesterday conceded that anti-independence militia might still be operating in the hills of East Timor.

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