Subject: AP: Militias Pose Serious Threat to East Timor Refugees

Also: Lusa: Militia Disinformation Campaign Targets West Timor Refugees

The Associated Press 3/8/00 2:38 AM

Militias pose serious threat to East Timor refugees


KUPANG, Indonesia (AP) -- Exhausted, Remund Da Silva waited patiently on a ramshackle dock with his wife, seven children and hundreds of others for a U.N.-chartered ship back to East Timor.

The Da Silvas are among tens of thousands who fled or were forced from their homeland during bloody fighting last year. They sought shelter in squalid camps in Indonesian-controlled West Timor.

But unlike most refugees going back, Remund admits he took part in some of the violence.

He had been a member of Aitarak, one of several anti-independence militia gangs that went on a rampage of killings and destruction after East Timor's people voted overwhelmingly in a U.N.-supervised ballot to break away from Indonesian rule.

"I committed crimes," he said, refusing to elaborate. "But I just want to go home."

Six months after international peacekeepers forced the militia bands out of East Timor, some gang members want to go home and start anew.

But worried about revenge attacks or even prosecution, most remain in squalid and unhealthy refugee camps in West Timor.

Officials of the U.N. Commission for Refugees say 144,000 people from 200 camps have returned to the East. But almost as many are too afraid to return because of "continuous attacks and intimidation" by the militias.

"They want to hold on to the refugees as they feel they have more power that way," UNHCR spokesman William Splinder said.

U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, Robert Gelbard, said the remaining militia groups must be disarmed immediately.

"It's important that the Indonesian government take measures to remove militia leaders and help create a better environment within which people can make choices about whether to go back to East Timor or whether to become Indonesian citizens," he told reporters in Indonesia's capital, Jakarta.

Disease is also a major problem for the refugees. In Tuapukan camp, near West Timor's capital, Kupang, many children have scabies and all are malnourished. Camp doctors say malaria and respiratory illnesses are rife.

Gelbard said up to 900 camp inmates have died from disease.

"We warned the Indonesian authorities that leaving the people in the camps during the rainy season would -- not could -- would lead to an accelerated number of deaths," he said.

Last week, Indonesia's reformist president, Abdurrahman Wahid, went to West Timor after a historic first visit to East Timor. "The era has ended for those who want to resort to violence," he told militia supporters.

But his words have had little impact. A day later, suspected militia members opened fire at U.N. troops on the border between West and East Timor.

Security is also a continuous threat in some of the camps. UNHCR officials only visit them with armed escorts from the Indonesian military. A month ago, two foreign visitors were "beaten and nearly killed" by militiamen, the officials said.

An East Timorese anti-independence leader told The Associated Press the militias won't give up their struggle until the United Nations investigates claims that last year's independence vote was rigged.

"If this can be overcome, then I think we will be happy to start talking about going back," Francisco da Silva said.

But the U.N. has made clear that it has no intention of doing this, having already rejected all claims of bias and irregularities. Indonesia's government has accepted the results of the vote.

Despite the continuing troubles, some of the demoralized militia members now want to go home, said Red Cross officer Yayoi Hayashi, who coordinates a message service between the camps and family and friends in East Timor.

One of the messages Hayashi received recently from a militiaman read: "My friend, you may hate me, but I want to return. Everyone knows I'm a militia, my hands are dirty."

Before his family's name was called to board the ship home, Da Silva said he would do anything not to have to go back to the camps.

Despite reports from East Timor that returning militia members have been attacked and imprisoned, Da Silva said he trusted East Timorese independence leader Jose "Xanana" Gusmao when he said that past sins should be forgiven and East Timor must look to the future.

"East Timor is my home," Da Silva said. "It is time to go back."

East Timor: Militia Disinformation Campaign Targets West Timor Refugees - UNTAET

Dili, March 6 (Lusa) - The UN Transition Administration of East Timor (UNTAET) has denounced the "disinformation campaign" waged by militia groups in Indonesian West Timor, whose aim is to make East Timorese refugees afraid to return to their homeland.

UNTAET spokesman Manoel Almeida e Silva told Lusa Monday that the campaign was promoted by the West Timor bulletin A Luta (The Struggle), published in Bahasa (the language of Indonesia) by the self- proclaimed United Timorese Heroes (UNTAS).

The issues of A Luta distributed among East Timorese refugees in West Timor urge them not to return to East Timor. A copy of the first edition, obtained by Lusa, outlines what it terms Portugal's "neo- colonialist" designs on East Timor and describes the difficulties faced by residents of Dili, the East Timor capital, due to "rising crime and increased despotism".

The publication also claims that East Timor's Aug. 30 vote for independence was "fraudulent and manipulated". Almeida e Silva said UNTAS, which was first noted in January, had been set up to join under one banner East Timorese groups against independence and for integration into Indonesia.

"This situation worries the United Nations" he said, adding that the matter had been discussed by UNTAET administrator Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Indonesian president, during Abdurrahman Wahid's recent visit to the territory.

The 24-year Indonesian occupation of East Timor ended last October, in the wake of the Aug. 30 plebiscite in which nearly 80 percent of East Timorese voted for independence. During the weeks of post-ballot violence, anti-independence militias and the Indonesian military evacuated or forcibly deported more than 200,000 East Timorese from their homeland. About 100,000 of them still remain in West Timor.

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