|Subject: SMH: Indonesian militia 'cuts off 60,000
from outside help'
Date: Sat, 10 Jul 1999 16:56:36 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Received from Joyo Indonesian News:
Sydney Morning Herald 10/07/99
Indonesian militia 'cuts off 60,000 from outside help'
By MARK DODD, Herald Correspondent in Dili
Up to 60,000 East Timorese refugees are being held as virtual hostages by pro-Jakarta militia groups, according to diplomatic and aid officials.
The refugees are cut off from humanitarian aid while being forced to vote for next month's autonomy proposal.
"Hundreds of people, the majority being displaced women and children, have died in the last three months," said one diplomatic source who asked not to be named. He said the situation was a "disaster waiting to happen".
Local aid organisations and church groups in Dili backed his claims, saying most of the refugees are concentrated in militia-controlled zones in East Timor's western districts, with full knowledge of the Indonesian military.
"All over East Timor but in the western sector in particular reports are coming in which are strikingly consistent. Large numbers of villagers are being forcibly displaced, their houses burnt, their animals stolen and killed," a senior aid worker said.
"The typical scenario we are hearing is ABRI [army] are going into the villages with the militia in front of them."
The rounding-up of refugees is reminiscent of Indonesian military operations in the early 1980s to isolate and flush out Fretilin guerilla fighters. A 1981 operation saw whole villages uprooted, causing widespread starvation.
Many suspected pro-independence supporters have been forced to pledge loyalty to the pro-autonomy cause in exchange for food handouts.
Last week, Indonesia's ambassador at large, Francisco Xavier Lopes da Cruz, gave a chilling warning about the consequences of a pro-independence win at the August ballot. "If people chose autonomy blood will drip - if people reject autonomy there is the possibility blood will flow in East Timor," the Suara Timor Timur newspaper reported him saying.
Because the refugees are being held under virtual militia guard and away from UN access, concerns are deepening about the planned start to voter registration next Tuesday.
The UN Secretary-General, Mr Kofi Annan, will decide the poll's future next week after talks with other UN representatives.
"How can they [UN] say security conditions exist when refugees are being forced to vote for autonomy and nobody can get to them to provide aid or food," the aid official said. "We're talking about a significant section of the population."
Many refugees say they have been threatened with deportation across the border to Atambua in Indonesian West Timor, where they have been told they will be forcibly registered.
Diplomatic sources told the Herald that Indonesian authorities have been pressing the UN to open a voting centre at Atambua.
There are 5,000 refugees in Atambua - supporters of the autonomy proposal, mostly families of militiamen or government workers who fled earlier this year after President B.J.Habibie's offer of a "Popular Consultation" on self- determination for East Timor.
East Timor's provincial government admits to a refugee problem but blames it on violence caused by fighting between pro-independence Falintil guerillas and pro-Jakarta militias. It estimates 21,802 refugees in the three western border districts of Liquica, Ermera and Bobonaro.
On Wednesday and Thursday, UN military liaison officers accompanied by Indonesian military reported crude attempts by the hardline Besi MerahPutih (Red and White Iron) militia to deny access to Sare village in south-west Ermera district.
One aid worker who visited the area last week described the road leading to Sare as "looking like a war zone".
"The whole area is evacuated - it's completely burnt out. The militia cannot hide this," he said.
Of particular concern to aid organisations is the plight of 7,500 refugees in two villages in Ermera. A local aid worker said 3,500 people were sheltering at Faulara, while another 4,000 were concentrated nearby at Acolau.
Many of the refugees were surviving by foraging in the forest and unable to return to their villages near the coast because of militia threats. Human rights workers said several who tried to return had been killed.