As many of you are probably aware, the IFET-OP Dili office is in full operation. The official inauguration was on June 22nd, 1999. IFET-OP rented the office for the following three months with an option to extend indefinitely. The IFET-OP compound is actually a ten room Portuguese-style villa with a three-car garage, high metal fence with its own small "wild kingdom" comprising fish in a serene brook and many tropical birds. It is within close proximity to the city core. There are currently seven full-time staff members from the United States, Germany and Canada living in the compound. We also have an IFET member currently living within a few kilometers of the office. The IFET-OP compound has living quarters for twenty- three.
The office and staff are preparing for the arrival of more Volunteer Observers. The office has been equipped with two phone lines, fax, computer with printer and all the other necessary tools from pens to desks. We also have our own email address, as many of you already know, albeit through a very slow server.
In the last few weeks our staff has had the opportunity of meeting many
church officials, NGO's and student organizations. The well- known East
Timorese human rights NGO, Yayasan HAK, has agreed to work closely with
IFET-OP. Yayasan HAK has formed its own "Committee for a Free and Independent
Ballot". The Indonesian NGO, Volunteer Team for Humanity, will also work
with IFET-OP to station observers in the districts. As far as IFET-OP and
UNAMET know, we are the only observer team in Dili.
Not much has changed in the political arena in the last few months. The military and police still have an overwhelming presence and together with pro-integration militias, they continue their reign of terror, violence and intimidation against the population. Whenever a request for intervention or protection is made, either by the Timorese or UNAMET, they drag their feet or, more often than not, simply refuse to provide any aid.
During our numerous interviews with Timorese, church officials as well as NGO's we were able to ascertain that the civil government has been conducting a program to "socialize the offer of wide- ranging autonomy." Though the campaign period has not begun according to UNAMET's schedule, the provincial East Timor government has been actively campaigning for autonomy from the moment the agreement was signed. From the governor down to the village head, the bureaucracy has been organized to promote autonomy. While the military, the police, and the militias are terrorizing the pro-independence side into silence, the civil bureaucracy has been openly and not so openly campaigning for autonomy.
The governor has funneled funds down the chain of command; the bupati, camat, and kepala desa have all been allotted money for the explicit purpose of "socializing autonomy." In the villages, the government has what is described a door-to-door system. Four people in each village are paid to persuade or coerce (whatever method seems appropriate) other villagers into supporting autonomy. The campaigners never mention that the rejection of autonomy will lead to independence; they describe the only result of a rejection as "civil war." They tend to clarify the meaning of this "civil war" by simultaneously threatening to kill people if they reject autonomy. The campaigners tell people that the vote will not be secret and that the government will know how each individual voted.
Close government sources in Dili report major budgetary cuts in many departments, from which funds are diverted for promoting autonomy. This is confirmed by the Committee for a Free and Independent Ballot - a monitoring group formed by Yayasan HAK - which has accused East Timor's Jakarta appointed governor of having approved three billion rupiah (US$461,000) for each district to spend on promoting autonomy.
Published reports mention of an illegal voter registration drive. A
blank copy of the registration form, obtained by the press, shows that
it contains a space for the name of the sub-district, then columns for
people's names, gender, age and address. The column for voting preference
offers two choices; "Accept Autonomy" or "Reject Autonomy". Four thousand
names were already on the list but only seven hundred had expressed a preference
The situation with refugees west of Dili is desperate and to some degree irreparable. Eight to ten thousand refugees from surrounding areas have fled from pro-integration militias to Liquica. They are becoming progressively more malnourished - weakening daily. Tuberculosis is a major problem in East Timor under relatively non-violent conditions; in these camps TB is at epidemic proportions. At night the population is intimidated, attacked and abused.
Things are much worse in more remote areas further west; for example, near the Loes River near Maubara. In a remote area, which the militias control, thousands are being held against their will. It is the opinion of an aid NGO that inevitably there will be hundreds of deaths through starvation, disease and direct violence.
The people fled to this especially inaccessible area seeking safety from the militias; ironically, they are now subjected to violence because of that same remoteness. The militias are able to maintain their guard-posts in the remote interior because they are supplied with food, money and arms by the military command posts.
Church officials, aware of this crisis, met recently with representatives of UNAMET. When asked if UNAMET would or could remove the refugees to an area where they were not at the mercy of the militias, and where they could receive food and medical care, they were told that UNAMET's plan is to avoid moving populations, but to establish a presence to discourage abuse by militias. Asked how soon they could establish a presence in the area in question, they replied they weren't sure if or when - it was not in the current plan. One UNAMET person also cited concerns about risk to their volunteers and personnel.
About 4,000 refugees are in Sare which is just across the river from Madabao and Kuelima. Sare is a small village located in the Liquica district bordering the district of Ermera. We learned about Sare from a coalition of NGOs in Dili, which have sent relief aid. Timor Aid, Caritas, Etadep, and Yayasan Hak dispatched, on July 2nd, nine trucks to Sare carrying twenty-five tons of rice, hundreds of boxes of instant noodles, bags of salt, and various medical supplies.
The police originally promised to provide an escort for the convoy but that morning, at 7am when it was scheduled to leave, refused to provide one unless the organizers obtained a local government permit. After much wrangling, UNAMET sent an escort for it and the trucks left at 11:30am. (Sare is a four-hour trip from Dili, though, as the crow flies, it is only thirty miles away.) Many of the people in the convoy, which included two Indonesian and two foreign volunteers will stay for two to three days in Sare.
The NGOs are not so concerned about a militia attack on the convoy and their personnel; they are more worried about what will happen to the refugees after they leave. Sare too is surrounded by gun- wielding militia members, backed by the local military authorities. The military might wish to crush the hope the captive refugees gained from the visit by launching another round of violence and intimidation. [On its way back, the convoy was attacked while passing through Liquica town, but that will be included in next week's report.]
An IFET-OP member recalls one church official who kept repeating the
words "stress, trauma, intimidasi, terror."
At night in Liquica and other areas, militias and Indonesian military get drunk and violate women and girls; women are removed from their families and raped - gang raped in many cases. On Tuesday June 29, a delegation of women from the Asia Pacific Coalition for East Timor (APCET) held a press conference in Dili to report on their seven-day investigation. Two members of IFET-OP attended the briefing. Among examples the delegation cited was the case of a 22-year old woman, six months pregnant, who was, "taken from her home on May 15, 1999, beaten and gang-raped by 10 members of the Besi Merah Putih militia and five Indonesian soldiers, including the commander named C. Lucas." They also cited the case of a "woman raped in front of her husband while her husband was beaten."
When questioned by a reporter at the press conference, delegation members explained that the woman had not received a medical exam because she was afraid of Indonesian doctors and no other doctors were available because Australian and Philippine doctors coming to East Timor had recently been refused entry to Indonesia. Since then a few foreign doctors have made their way to East Timor although most are here on tourist visas.
The delegation stated that documentation of these cases had been submitted
to UNAMET. UNAMET had assured them that they would present the findings
to the Indonesian authorities, including the responsible police. When questioned
about this process, an Irish attorney - Patricia Kelly, (she is not a member
of APCET but she accompanied the delegation) explained that they had not
heard back about the Indonesian response. When asked about possible prosecution
of the perpetrators, she pointed out that there are no Timorese in the
judiciary, and that there are only two Timorese prosecutors and they are
forbidden to work on any cases involving Timorese.
IFET-OP has received confirmation of its impending accreditation. We have just received all the documentation to start the accreditation process for the current Dili volunteers.
UNAMET has deployed staff in all eight electoral districts and a total of 104 civilian police are currently in East Timor. Security has been tightened around all UNAMET offices in light of recent threats and incidents involving pro-integration militias.
On the morning of Tuesday June 29th, 1999, UNAMET staff in Maliana were attacked by pro-integration militias. Reports indicate that an estimated group of 100 militias, who were among a larger crowd gathered outside the UNAMET compound, threw rocks and stones at the office and people inside. One UNAMET staff member suffered minor injuries as did a number of non-staff East Timorese who had taken refuge when the incident developed.
A few other incidents of threats and intimidation were made by militias against UNAMET staff in Vikeke. On the evening of June 30th, UNAMET temporarily relocated seven UN district electoral officers from Vikeke to Dili. Militias in that area had threatened staff by surrounding their residence and intimidating them on two occasions and that on the second occasion the militias were armed.
The Vikeke and Maliana incidents have prompted UNAMET to re-assess their security situation in those towns. UNAMET does report that some areas, such as Baucau and Dili, have seen some improvement.
A team of IFET-OP was dispatched to learn more about housing conditions in the regional districts. They report no difficulties in securing comfortable housing in the areas of Liquica, Ermera, Maubisse, Ainaro and Suai. Food and other basic household goods are found easily within each town.
Our team will be visiting more districts this week in areas east of
This is the first installment in what will be a weekly bulletin to further
inform you on all aspects of the IFET Observers Project. Should you have
any comments or suggestions please forward them at our email address email@example.com.
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