Subject: JRH: The Suffering of East Timorese Exiles Is Not Over

International Herald Tribune Monday, March 27, 2000


The Suffering of East Timorese Exiles Is Not Over

By José Ramos-Horta International Herald Tribune

DILI, East Timor - Half a year after being driven into exile after East Timor overwhelmingly voted for independence from Indonesia, more than 140,000 East Timorese have returned home from Indonesian West Timor. But at least 100,000 East Timorese remain in camps in West Timor that are under the control of militia thugs from East Timor and their supporters in the Indonesian army.

Many of the people in the camps are in a dire situation. Sanitation and access to medical treatment are practically nonexistent. More than a month ago, West Timor officials said that nearly 500 East Timorese, including 310 children, had died as a result of inadequate sanitation and medical care.

Intimidation of camp inmates by the militia and the Indonesian military continues despite an order from President Abdurrahman Wahid in Jakarta that such activity must stop. Access by international aid groups to the refugees is extremely limited. There have been many militia attacks on aid workers. This situation must be remedied immediately.

The propaganda being spread through the camps by hard-liners in the Indonesian military and their militia proxies about violence in East Timor is making repatriation efforts much more difficult.

The National Council of Timorese Resistance, which is working closely with the United Nations to prepare East Timor for independence, is committed to working with the Indonesian government to explain to the East Timorese that they can return safely, including those who collaborated with Jakarta during its 24-year rule.

Those thousands of East Timorese who voted for an autonomous East Timor within Indonesia in the plebiscite last August, and those militia members who collaborated with the Indonesian Army, can feel safe returning to their homeland.

No reprisals will be taken against any of them. This is their country, they belong here, and all of us - the pro-independence and the pro-autonomy groups - must bury the past, consolidate peace and rebuild East Timor.

However, there can be no tolerance for a militia leadership that continues to oversee terror campaigns in West Timor and carry out cross-border raids into East Timor. International peacekeepers near the border between East and West Timor recently came under fire from Indonesian military-backed militias four times in 24 hours.

We are relieved that at long last a militia boss in West Timor, Laurentino (Moko) Soares, was recently arrested. But those in the militia leadership who are still ordering attacks must be brought to trial. Their bosses in the Indonesian military should be called to account as well.

For this reason, while we support the ongoing process in Indonesia of investigation and trials of military and militia leaders implicated in the violence that ravaged East Timor before and after the independence vote, we also encourage the UN to push ahead with support for an international tribunal.

Such a tribunal would guarantee that the Indonesian military masterminds of the gross human rights abuses in East Timor are brought to justice if Indonesia cannot meet international standards of due process.

The UN should clarify the standards now, focusing particular attention on the credibility of judicial personnel and witness protection. It should not allow selective immunity from prosecution.

The international community must support the civilian government of President Wahid and the pro-democracy movement in Indonesia by taking strong measures at all levels to help them keep the Indonesian armed forces in check. East Timor is grateful for current restrictions imposed by the United States and other countries on military ties with Indonesia and wants to see them maintained.

By continuing to freeze the supply of weapons, equipment and spare parts to the Indonesian armed forces, foreign governments help stop the terror in West Timor.

The writer, an East Timorese who was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996, is vice president of the National Council of Timorese Resistance. He contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.

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