Subject: Border clash throws Timorese repatriation in doubt

also: Australian General: Indonesian Forces Overreacted At Border

Australian Broadcasting Corporation Sunday 20 February, 2000

Border clash throws Timorese repatriation in doubt

A border clash in East Timor has placed in doubt a strategy aimed at getting refugees forced across the border into Indonesian West Timor back home.

Eyewitnesses say shots were fired by Indonesian soldiers yesterday at a family reunion day on the border with West Timor, where 15,000 people had gathered.

Refugees who had crossed over from West Timor to meet with friends and relatives panicked when the shooting began, fleeing back across the border. In East Timor people ran for cover.

The shootings began after rocks were thrown at Indonesian soldiers.

An Interfet source says the unrest began after a suspected militiaman crossed the border and struck an East Timorese man.

The number of people attending the weekly family reunion day has grown since its inception last month, but this incident has sparked concern amongst aid workers that it will not continue unless security is improved.

Less than 20 civilian police and unarmed military liaison officers were on hand to control the crowd.

Associated Press Sunday, February 20 3:27 PM SGT

Australian Genl: Indonesian Forces Overreacted At Border

CANBERRA (AP)--Indonesian forces overreacted by firing into the air to defuse a dispute between civilians on the East-West Timor border, the Australian commander of the international peacekeeping force said Sunday.

Indonesian troops on the sensitive border shot hundreds of rounds from automatic weapons on Saturday at the main border town, Batugade, as a reunion of families split by conflict threatened to degenerate into violence.

The soldiers started shooting after youths on both sides of the border traded insults and began throwing rocks.

About 13,000 people had gathered for a United Nations-sponsored event to bring refugees in West Timor together with relatives in East Timor.

Major-General Peter Cosgrove said the incident was serious because of the size of the crowd.

"A small incident snowballed a bit and the reaction by the TNI troops on their side of the border was to fire a very large number of shots in the air," he told Australia's Nine Network, referring to the Indonesian military.

"Although I'm happy they were there to at least intervene in some way the number of shots seemed to me to be somewhat of an overreaction, or at least not designed to defuse tensions but rather to frighten, and it could have caused a stampede."

Gen. Cosgrove said international peacekeepers were at the scene but didn't fire any shots. He said he would be raising the incident with his Indonesian counterpart.

Jakarta has given more than 100,000 refugees in West Timor until March 31 to decide whether to remain in Indonesia or return to their devastated homeland, now administered by the U.N.

ABC, 20 Feb


Also in East Timor, two men accused of rape have escaped from Dili's UN controlled detention centre.

The men escaped after removing louvres from the window of their cell in the first escape bid made since the detention centre was established following the independence ballot.

More than 40 people are currently held in the civilian detention centre, which is controlled by UN civilian police.

Many are accused of violent crimes, including murder, which took place in both the lead-up to and following August's independence referendum.

One of the two men has since been recaptured. Civilian police say the louvres have now been reinforced.

Soldiers home

Meanwhile, more than 300 Australian soldiers have arrived in Sydney this morning, after a six-month deployment in East Timor.

A large crowd of family and friends greeted the members of the 3RAR when they touched down at Sydney Airport.

The soldiers, who worked in Dili, Maliana and Oecussi as part of the Interfet force, are the first wave of returning personnel, with a second group expected to arrive back in Sydney next week.

(9:19am AEDT)

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