|Subject: SMH/Age: Refugees 'forced to
Sydney Morning Herald January 25, 2003
Refugees 'forced to become guerillas'
By Jill Jolliffe in Dili
Members of an armed militia group arrested here last week say they agreed to return as guerillas because Indonesian officials in West Timor had prevented them from returning legally with United Nations refugee programs.
"After President Xanana [Gusmao] visited us last year we tried to come back with the UN High Commission for Refugees," said 38-year old Elias, "but the Indonesian military [TNI] stopped us. They had the guns, and we were afraid of them."
Elias is a pseudonym, because he is afraid his testimony could result in reprisals against the family he left behind in Atambua, West Timor.
A manhunt is under way in East Timor for six other armed groups believed to have also crossed the border in December. Seven people died in raids on the border district of Atsabe in early January. SKS automatic rifles, standard issue for the TNI, were used in the attacks.
Speaking in Dili's Becora prison, Elias reinforced testimony given earlier by fellow-prisoner Miguel Metan that junior TNI officers Tome Diogo and Henrique Moreiraboth, wanted by the UN for war crimes, had instructed their group to return and kill pro-independence village heads. He said he agreed because he was afraid to refuse, but also wanted to return home. He alleged militia chief Joao Tavares was also involved.
"I wanted to surrender and make peace with my village, so I could bring my family back," he said.
Kai Neilsen, UNHCR's mission head in Dili, said he found it hard to believe Indonesian authorities would take this action, "but maybe there are some elements - we know there are people left in West Timor with an interest in destabilising East Timor".
UNHCR has not had a presence in West Timor since the murder of three of its staff in Atambua in 2000. "We have no access to camps there," Mr Neilsen said, adding that co-operation with Indonesian authorities at the senior level had been excellent recently.
Last year the UNHCR sponsored two trips by Mr Gusmao to camps in West Timor to convince pro-Indonesian refugees they had nothing to fear in East Timor. Elias said he believed his message, but was stopped from returning legally.
Tavares, also wanted for involvement in 1999 militia attacks, sat beside Mr Gusmao at some rallies.
He said publicly that violence belonged to the past and East Timorese should reconcile with each other. However, according to Elias's testimony, Atambua refugees still live in fear of him.
"We are just common people, so we could never talk to him, but Tome Diogo and Henrique Moreira acted with him," Elias alleged.
Mr Metan, 45, said that although his family had been able to return to East Timor in 2001 from the Indonesian-controlled camps, he was told he could only return "to wage guerilla warfare".
Their group of eight crossed the border on December 19 armed with one SKS rifle and five home-made pistols. Both men say they walked over the border at an area controlled by Australia's UN contingent, but had first to avoid Indonesian border guards, who they feared.
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