Subject: Temporary Border Opening Bridges Gap with W Timor

Australian Associated Press Sunday, February 13, 2000

Temporary border opening bridges gap with West Timor

By John Martinkus

DILI, Feb 13 AAP - Ten thousand East Timorese gathered on the East and West Timor borders yesterday for a chance for brief meeting with their relatives on the other side.

The border is opened once a week to allow East Timorese to meet relatives who fled to West Timor after the post-independence vote violence last year.

Australian troops from 5/7 Royal Australian Regiment checked the East Timorese for weapons and dyed the fingers of those who crossed into the neutral no-mans land between the two borders where East Timorese from both sides were allowed to meet.

The Indonesian military controlling the flow of people from the West Timor side were jeered and abused by East Timorese youth among the crowd.

The Indonesians responded by treating those waiting to cross from West Timor in a rough manner threatening to hit them with rifle butts if they did not wait calmly in line.

Although more than 130,000 East Timorese refugees from West Timor have been repatriated to East Timor by the UNHCR and International Organisation for Migration (IOM) operations the border still remains a dangerous place for East Timorese trying to return.

One family that was meeting at the border yesterday was in mourning.

On February 2 they had registered to return to East Timor with the UNHCR. They owned a herd of twenty buffaloes and one of the brothers volunteered to walk them across the border the following day.

After paying the Indonesian border guards 400,000 rupiah (80) and two buffalo he attempted to drive the herd through no mans' land to the Australian checkpoint four kilometres away.

The man was killed by a stab wound to the neck and the herd stolen somewhere in between the Indonesian post and the Australian checkpoint.

The man's brother believes he knows who the killers are but because he is still in Indonesian controlled West Timor he would not give his name or confirm that the people responsible were members of the Indonesian border guards.

"We are very sad today because one of our family was killed and we don't know if it is safe to be here" said the man.

On the West Timor side the militia and Indonesian military blame Interfet for the killing using it as an example to frighten those that want to return to East Timor.

The misinformation has an effect.

"I'm worried they are going to kill me if I go across but I am desperate to see my mother that's why I'm here" said Angelina a 23-year-old East Timorese who has stayed in West Timor.

She thinks the Australian soldiers will kill her.

The Australian commander on the border Major Jake Elwood said the purpose of opening the border on Saturdays was to try and counter the rumours and lies about what is happening in East Timor that are spread in the camps in West Timor by allowing family members to talk to each other about it.

"I think we will find over time those families will go one way or another" said Major Elwood.

There are still over 100,000 East Timorese in refugee camps in West Timor after roughly 250,000 fled or were forced by the Indonesian military to West Timor following the violence and destruction of East Timor carried out as the Indonesian military withdrew last September.

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