Subject: SCMP: Return to Conflict Feared If Timor Militias Remain Alienated

Also: ABC: East Timorese refugees too scared to return home

South China Morning Post Monday, April 3, 2000


Return to conflict feared if militias remain alienated


East Timor could be heading towards another violent conflict because former supporters of Indonesian rule in the territory are not involved in a reconciliation process with East Timorese independence leaders.

The pro-Indonesian leaders have a strong hold over the 100,000 or more East Timorese refugees still living in camps throughout West Timor.

Now calling themselves Untas (Unity of Timorese with Dignity), they are refusing to enter into a dialogue with the United Nations, which they accuse of bias in the lead-up to last August's referendum on independence from Indonesia.

Untas says the refugees in West Timor all want to return. But the organisation believes the refugees, many of whom were members of anti-independence militias or linked in other ways to the former Indonesian regime in East Timor, are in danger of being killed by independence supporters if they return home.

According to Western aid workers in West Timor, the next few weeks will be crucial in deciding whether or not the refugees return. Many refugees have planted crops that will be harvested this month.

"If the refugees remain after this harvest, we could see them staying here for a long time," one aid worker said.

Untas is encouraging the refugees to stay and is looking to build new settlements to house them, despite West Timor Governor Pieter Tallo's insistence they should go back - mainly because the province cannot afford for them to stay on.

"Our policy is to look after the refugees, and we are looking into bringing them to one place where they can start a new life in a new settlement," said Filomeno Hornay, a former university lecturer in Dili who is now living in Kupang.

Untas says the refugees may return to take part in elections for a new government after the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (Untaet) leaves.

But the group's leaders believe this could lead to a re-run of the same violence that destroyed much of East Timor's infrastructure last year because the issues that caused the problems in the first place have not been addressed.

"At the end of [the UN mission] there will be an election for president. There will be many parties contesting and conflict will happen again. The problems in East Timor are far from over," Mr Hornay said.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation AM News, Monday, April 3, 2000 8:19

East Timorese refugees too scared to return home

COMPERE: Now to the plight of more than 100,000 refugees from East Timor who remain across the border in Indonesia. From the border town of Atambua inside Indonesian West Timor, this report from our correspondent, Mark Bowling:

MARK BOWLING: A militia leader shouts his support for the red and white flag of Indonesia. Clench-fisted and defiant, he remains one of the leaders of the 3000 or more refugees that live in Halowin [phonetic] camp just inside West Timor. It's a squalid place of makeshift huts and muddy allies. While the militia gangs loyal to Jakarta no longer carry weapons openly here, they do control what goes on, and that includes the flow of information about whether it's safe to return to East Timor.

"We've heard that in East Timor the situation is not good," says Raman Umar [phonetic], a mother of four. "In the night they kidnap the men and kill them, and people say they beat the women. And what can we eat in East Timor, there's no food there."

Ugly rumours and lies are one problem, but for many it may never be safe to return to East Timor. The former militia leaders and their families now make up a large slice of the refugee camp population. They fear revenge if they ever return. One of those militia supporters is Alfredo d'Arajou [phonetic]. "I'm Timorese," he says, "but I don't want to die. Because there's no law in East Timor, I'm scared of being killed, because we know that our friends who've been brought back were kidnapped at night then killed."

Alis Binachmad, Head of the United Nations operations here near the border, admits it's difficult to counter the militia rhetoric:

ALIAS BINUCHMAD: There are people who are against return at all costs, for whatever reasons, of their past action or misdeeds, and they are also those who are relieved [indistinct] these people there, who have some reasons to fear some form of retribution.

MARK BOWLING: Every day the United Nations sends out convoys of trucks to pick up refugees willing to cross the border. There have been cases of people physically pulled off the trucks as they attempt to leave. Today only six people are making the journey from the Halowin camp. They join about 150 people on board trucks from other camps on their way to the East Timorese border at Motaen [phonetic]. From there, Australian troops check the convoy for weapons and then the people are trucked home to their towns.

According to the United Nations, it could take months more for perhaps 30,000 of the 100,000 refugees to be convinced that conditions are safe to return to East Timor. But what of the others? It's now likely that they'll have to stay in the camps until they find alternative places to live nearby or they're transported to other parts of Indonesia.

This is Mark Bowling in Atambua, West Timor for AM.

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