Subject: ABC: Children dying in refugee camps in West Timor

ABC Radio "Asia Pacific" program April 10, 2001.

Children dying in refugee camps in West Timor.

A United Nations delegation is visiting West Timor to encourage displaced East Timorese civilians to return home - but a refugee worker says the East Timorese don't lack in motivation to go back, he says the problem is the control exerted over them by pro-Jakarta militia.

Around a quarter of a million people left East Timor after the vote to separate from Indonesia in August 1999. Most were forced to move to West Timor by pro-Jakarta militia and up to 100-thousand people remain under militia control in squalid camps.

Winston Rondo is General Secretary of the Centre for Internally Displaced Peoples Service in West Timor and has been working with East Timorese refugees for the past seventeen months.

He told Peter Mares that the camps are deliberately designed to hold the refugees in a circle of intimidation - and that conditions are very bad:

RONDO: Refugees live in squalid camps, short of water, food and medicine. Begging is common for children and each day five children die mainly from malaria and diarrhoea and malnutrition in the camps.

MARES: So you are saying five children per day are dying in the camps?

RONDO: Yes. If you go to the camps, the people are very, very hungry. The first thing they need is food, but you cannot give food every day, every week, every month.

MARES: You need to get the refugees home.

RONDO: Yes. The greater proportion of the refugees in West Timor live in a crisis situation. No freedom, no hope and also no future.

MARES: And why are they still there?

RONDO: The main reason is the militia presence in the camps. Since the refugees went from East Timor to West Timor with the Indonesian army, they designed the camp with what I call an intimidation circle. They put all the civilian refugees in the centre of the circle. In the second circle live militia and their family, who have guns, are well organised and have military training by the TNI, the Indonesia army. And the last [outermost] circle is former TNI from East Timor.

MARES: Former soldiers?

RONDON: Yes. Former soldiers.

MARES: Who were in the East Timorese batallions in East Timor.

RONDO: Yes. What's the consequence? There's just one way to come in or get out from the camp and the militia have full power. They can control all civilians and all the aid that you give to the refugees.

MARES: So the militia control whatever goes in and out of the camp including aid?

RONDO: Yes, and the second consequence is that a lot of violence goes on in the camps and people from outside don't know about it. Rape, looting, sexual harassment. And the third consequence is that the militia manipulate the information about the real situation in East Timor. They have newsletters, they have many ways to manipulate the information.

MARES: The Indonesian government has pledged many times that it will clean up the militia in the camps, that it will take control of the camps. Why hasn't that happened?

RONDO: The problem is not the Indonesian government but the Indonesian army. The Indonesian government does not have full control over the military and they can do what they want. The key of the solution is in the hand of the Indonesian army and the Indonesian military in my experience is the boss of the militia. They just [need to] talk [say], all the militia pull out of the camp and they can do it. Because for a long time they recruit [the militia], they give military training, they give advances, they give facilities. They can do it. That is easy I think, but it is difficult to pressure the Indonesian military. And then relief must also be provided to the local West Timorese population, who are also the victims of the crisis. For example ten local people have died and over five hundred houses have been burnt down in conflicts with the refugees.

MARES: Or with the militia who are controlling the refugees.

RONDO: Not only militia. You know in the traumatic situation in the camp, short of water and food, they can go and - the leader is still militia - but they can go together and attack the local people community.

(first broadcast Tuesday 10.4.01)

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