Subject: SMH: Women Refugees Held as Sex Slaves by Militia Thugs

Sydney Morning Herald Monday, August 28, 2000

Women refugees held as sex slaves by militia thugs

By MARK DODD, Herald Correspondent in Suai, East Timor

When the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, Ms Mary Robinson, visited this shattered south-western border town this month she was confronted with the stark legacy of last year's murderous militia violence: a "rape baby" named Mary.

Mary's mother gave birth after being raped by pro-Indonesian militia and is now a member of a self-help group of refugee survivors of the September 6 Suai cathedral massacre known in the Tetum language as Mate Restu, or leftovers from the dead.

Cradling the baby, Ms Robinson told the group: "She should never have to suffer."

But thousands of women refugees, many as young as 15 years old, continue to suffer, being held as sex slaves by a motley assortment of militia gangsters, thugs and standover men who continue to operate with impunity in Indonesian West Timor.

Estimates of the number of East Timorese refugees living in ramshackle camps across the border range up to 150,000. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been prevented from confirming figures because of violence against UN staff by pro-Indonesian militia who control the sites.

Mr Fernando Mendoza, 28, returned from one militia-controlled camp on July 23 with his wife and child. His camp in Betun was guarded by members of the Laksaur militia, who threatened with violence anyone seeking repatriation, he said.

"When I said I wanted to go [home] the militia said, 'If you go to East Timor, the peacekeepers will kill you and your family'."

UN humanitarian operations in the camps, including the registration of refugees wanting to return, have come to a virtual halt after recent violence and threats directed against local staff.

The UNHCR Dili spokesman, Mr William Spindler, said: "We are in favour of any measures to restore security. We have been asking [Indonesia] to separate the militia from the refugees."

Most camps are scattered along the western border around the towns of Atambua, Kefamenanu and Betun, where 80 per cent of the refugee population lives, some in camps holding as many as 4,000 people.

Three of the biggest refugee camps, each holding an estimated 10,000 people, were grouped around Kupang, the capital of West Timor, Mr Spindler said. It is here that the political leadership of the militias is based.

As many as half of the total refugee population may not want to return home to East Timor. Many are former Indonesian public servants, police and soldiers who have still not been paid their pensions.

Mr Spindler said the militia continued to exert a powerful psychological hold over the refugees.

The militia have warned refugees that if they return home they will face unemployment. They claim UN peacekeepers are raping East Timorese women and separating families, and that anyone who sympathised with the pro-integration side could be subject to summary justice from Falintil and their supporters in the National Council of Timorese Resistance.

Tiring of the economic burden of the refugees and continuing violence, the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Mr Ali Shihab, has promised to close the camps within six months and has sent a team of senior officials to discuss the plan with the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor.

The administration has welcomed Indonesia's renewed commitment to resolving the refugee problem, but aid agencies such as the UNHCR now fear a refugee stampede across the border.

Mr Spindler said: "If it's a gradual closure we'll be happy with that, but a forced closure could put pressure on the reception [at] this end. The last thing we want is 40,000 or 50,000 people pouring across in two days.

"But we've heard all these promises before. What we want is for them [Indonesia] to restore law and order and keep a tight leash on the militias."

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