Subject: CNS: CRS will continue work in West Timor despite U.N. request

CRS will continue work in West Timor despite U.N. request By Stephen Steele Catholic News Service

JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNS) -- A Catholic Relief Services worker said the agency will remain active in West Timor's refugee camps despite a request from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to suspend operations.

Three UNHCR staff members were badly beaten in an attack Aug. 22 while delivering aid to refugees at a camp about 60 miles from West Timor's border with U.N-administered East Timor. The UNHCR suspended operations in the camps indefinitely and asked other nongovernmental organizations working there to follow suit.

``We will continue operations given the continuing needs of large populations,'' said Michael J. Frank, country representative in Indonesia for CRS, the U.S. bishops' international relief and development agency.

Frank said CRS remained ``very concerned'' about the attacks and hoped that Indonesia would take steps to ensure the safety of humanitarian aid workers.

As a precautionary measure, CRS has an evacuation plan in place for its 30 staff members in its Atambua office. In the meantime, the agency has increased its mandatory radio contacts with staff in West Timor, he said.

CRS is providing emergency food and nonfood aid for about 50,000 refugees spread among 93 camps. CRS shares responsibilities in the camps with the international relief organization CARE.

Frank said CRS has stopped crossing the East Timor-WestTimor border by vehicle due to increased militia activity.

A spokeswoman for the UNHCR said the number of incidents between the militias and U.N. staff has risen rapidly since July.

``Of all our documented incidents, more than half have happened since July; certainly the most severe attacks have happened since July. So not only are the attacks increasing, but the severity has increased as well,'' said Robin Ellis, UNHCR spokeswoman.

In the Aug. 22 incident, two of the three aid workers required hospitalization. One was dragged to a rice paddy and had his head held under water until he was ``left gasping for breath,'' she said.

The United Nations has complained repeatedly that the militias are using West Timor for border incursions and have taken control of border regions.

Clashes between pro-Indonesia militia groups and U.N. peacekeepers in East Timor have become more frequent recently. Two U.N. peacekeepers have been killed and four others wounded in fighting so far. Several militiamen have also been killed.

Another U.N. agency in West Timor said it was suspending repatriation of East Timorese until Sept. 5. The International Organization for Migration cited harassment and ``sensitive dates'' for the suspension.

In 1975, Indonesia invaded East Timor, then a Portuguese colony, and occupied the territory until last year, when it relinquished control after East Timorese voted in favor of independence. During a transition period to independence, the United Nations is administering East Timor.

The people of East Timor voted overwhelmingly for the territory's independence from Indonesia in a U.N.-sponsored referendum Aug. 30, 1999. Results of the vote were announced Sept. 4. Militias (sic) launched a wave of violence following the announcement, destroying most of East Timor's infrastructure and killing more than 1,000 people.

About 250,000 East Timorese then fled or were forced at gunpoint to Indonesian-controlled West Timor. About 80,000 to 100,000 remain in the camps.

Under pressure to dismantle the camps, Indonesia has pledged to move those who want to stay in Indonesia away from the border and allow those who want to return to East Timor to do so within three months.

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