Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
2201 C St., NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Albright:
I am writing to express my deepest concern for the more than 100,000 East Timorese refugees remaining in West Timor, now more than 6 months after Indonesian military and militia-backed post-referendum violence forced them from their homes. An additional unknown number of others taken by boat and airplane to other islands of Indonesia are still missing. While I appreciate your strong statements thus far regarding this crisis, much more needs to be done to enable the refugees to go home freely and speedily. I fear that the plight of the refugees is falling off the agenda, and it must not be allowed to do so.
The situation for East Timorese refugees remains dire. While some may choose to stay in Indonesia, more than two-thirds of the refugees in West Timor wish to return home. Conditions in the camps are horrendous, with high levels of malnutrition and a severe lack of adequate health care. Continuous damp and muddy conditions in the camps due to an unusually long rainy season have exacerbated health problems. A malaria catastrophe looms once the rains stop. Despite this, access to many of the camps by humanitarian organizations remains limited, and aid workers have been repeatedly threatened. Refugees further face ongoing threats and intimidation by TNI-supported militias. These militias continue to spread disinformation to discourage East Timorese from returning home.
East Timor is also not secured yet against militia and TNI threats. The isolated enclave of Oecussi has come under regular militia attack. TNI remains massed on the East-West Timor border, where it conducts exercises. Several thousand militia members are also active along the West Timor border. In early March, international peacekeepers near the border between East and West Timor. TNI and militias further prevent East Timorese from spontaneously returning and harass aid workers trying to enter and leave West Timor.
I was also greatly alarmed to learn recently that the Clinton administration is considering re-engagement with TNI despite the aforementioned TNI and militia sponsored violence in East and West Timor. As you are also aware, military violence against civilians also continues in Aceh, West Papua, and other areas of Indonesia. While current law prohibits weapons transfers and military training, Pentagon and State Department officials are planning high-level contacts and so-called humanitarian operations. No matter how limited, these would send an entirely wrong political message to Jakarta. Clearly, now is not the time to discuss normalization of military ties with Indonesia.
As the Secretary of State, I urge you to set up the pressure on President Wahid and his government to finally resolve East Timor's refugee crisis. Such a resolution requires open and complete access to all refugee camps in West Timor by humanitarian workers, and an immediate end to TNI support for and the disarming and disbanding of militias -- with militia leaders separated from civilian refugees and brought to justice. The Indonesian military must withdraw from the West Timor border region. A coordinated effort to track, locate, and safely return East Timorese taken off Timor island is needed. All refugees who wish to return home should be able to do so without intimidation.
The U.S. must ardently support continued investigations by the UN's International Commission of Inquiry in preparation for an international tribunal as recommended by the UN's International Commission of Inquiry. Indonesia's investigations and prosecutions must take place in a fair and comprehensive manner, while meeting international standards for its investigations and prosecutions. While the Indonesian government should be encouraged to carry out its own investigations and prosecutions in a fair and comprehensive manner, preparations for an international tribunal would guarantee justice for East Timor should Indonesia's efforts at prosecution falter or fail to meet international standards.
I thank you for your prompt action in response to my concerns and the concerns of many other U.S. citizens. After more than 24 years of suffering under a U.S.-backed grueling Indonesian occupation, at the very least the people of East Timor deserve the right to return home safely and a measure of justice.