Subject: WP: Looking for Relief in East Timor

The Washington Post February 2, 2000, Wednesday, Final Edition


Looking for Relief in East Timor Nora Boustany, Washington Post Foreign Service

Lynn Fredriksson returned five days ago from East Timor, where she toured the countryside and watched the Patricia Ann, also called "the mercy ship," steam into Dili harbor with some 400 refugees from western Timor, where the land border remains closed.

Donated to a local nongovernmental organization (NGO) by Hong Kong businessman Eric Hotung, the mercy ship once or twice a week ferries East Timorese civilians and some militiamen back home. It is one of the small signs of hope, while the repatriation of East Timorese remains slow and whereabouts are unknown for thousands who disappeared in a forced exodus after the Aug. 30 U.N.-backed independence referendum, she said.

For example, from a population of 52,000 in Ainaro, 1,300 are still missing, said Fredriksson, the Washington representative of the East Timor Action Network. Of the 250,000 people taken to western Timor, nobody knows how many were taken off the island aboard ships, shot and hurled overboard, she said citing reports from survivors, physicians in Dili and family members, whose relatives were expected to show up at a certain destination, but never arrived.

Fredriksson said she visited mass graves where none of the investigation teams dispatched by the United Nations or Indonesia have gone, such as a ravine, locally dubbed "Jakarta," a killing field in the heart of East Timor where some 300 people have been killed and buried since 1981.

A growing community of foreign NGOs, numbered at 58, are clustered in the capital, Dili, and supposedly are coordinating the distribution of shelter, food, medical care and clothing. "You don't see them in some places," she said, citing coordination chaos, resources and funding shortages, and a failure to consult and work with East Timorese NGOs, which are more knowledgeable about the needs and modes of distribution.

She voiced concerns that NGOs are becoming a pretext for some outfits waiting for a transition from relief to lucrative development programs. She said the residents are glad for all the help they are getting but eager to have a voice and greater role in what is being done. Frustrations and labor disputes over low wages, if any are paid, led one East Timorese leader to complain about "a new colony of aid agencies" after Indonesia's 24-year occupation.

Fredriksson challenged the U.S. government's view that the Indonesian government can bring justice without an international tribunal for crimes against humanity, especially when the military has been accused of carrying out an orchestrated campaign of mass killings, torture and deportations.

"Why is it that our government believes we can trust the Indonesian government to conduct a fair trial of military officers when they have not even allowed free access to the refugee camps and when military officers are still working with militias holding refugees in camps in East Timor? she asked. "It is totally inadequate to simply fire someone for acts of murder, rape and violence," she added, referring to the decision to dismiss Indonesia's former army chief, Gen. Wiranto, from the cabinet. "It has to be followed through," and Wiranto prosecuted, she said.

The Indonesian investigation team, which everybody respects, was thwarted and blocked by the Indonesian military and denied interviews with military officers, she said, adding that the team is willing to have a combined Indonesian-international tribunal and investigation.

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