|Subject: AFP: East Timor refugees stay in hiding
Date: Sat, 10 Jul 1999 16:42:01 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <email@example.com>
East Timor refugees stay in hiding Agence France-Presse
DILI, East Timor , July 3 (AFP) - Refugees from pro-Indonesian militia violence in East Timor failed to come out of hiding Saturday as planned, officials said.
Church officials and two United Nations personnel -- a political officer and a civilian police officer -- waited in vain for some 150 people to emerge from hiding in forests around Covalima district.
The officials said they had been informed that the refugees, who fled violence and intimidation by anti-independence militias early this year, would return to their villages in Covalima.
The UN and church officials had been planning to escort them to safety at a church in Suai, the district's main town some 35 kilometres (23 miles) southwest of here, but the refugees failed to appear, they said.
Some 280 East Timorese who had fled militia violence descended from the hilly forests to Suai on Friday, East Timor police spokesman Captain Widodo said in Dili.
Their safety is guaranteed by the police, in cooperation with local government officials, the United Nations Assessment Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) and the church, Widodo said.
"They will be accommodated here for a few days to receive briefings from the local administration, the church and the security authorities, before they will leave for home," Widodo said.
The group, from the Covalima village of Bale Kassa, followed 362 East Timorese who have also returned home from months of hiding following the militia violence that escalated in January, when the Indonesian government said it might relinquish the former Portuguese colony.
One of the militias, Mahidi (Dead or Alive with Indonesia), held a rally in support of autonomy under Indonesian rule Saturday at Zumalai, 85 kilometres (53 miles) southeast of Dili.
Some 300 people attended the rally, many wearing black T-shirts bearing the word Mahidi, as Indonesian police looked on.
Under an agreement between Indonesia and Portugal reached in May, the UN will conduct a poll in August to see whether East Timor's 800,000-odd people will accept broad autonomy under Indonesia.
UNAMET has said that campaigning for the ballot will only start later this month.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan last month postponed the vote, originally scheduled for August 8, by around two weeks citing logistical problems and concerns about security in East Timor .
Indonesia said in January that it would grant independence to East Timor , which it invaded in 1975 and annexed the following year, if the territory's populace rejected the autonomy offer.