Subject: UN's refugee commissioner lashes out at camp violence in W.Timor

Sydney Morning Herald July 18, 2000

UN's refugee commissioner lashes out at camp violence

By LINDSAY MURDOCH, Herald Correspondent in Jakarta

Violence by pro-Jakarta militia in West Timor camps has sabotaged plans by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to register 125,000 East Timorese waiting to return to East Timor or resettle in Indonesia.

The commissioner, Mrs Sadako Ogata, yesterday issued a scathing attack on the Indonesia Government's failure to live up to its commitments to maintain order in the camps and separate trouble-makers from refugees.

"I am appalled and dismayed that small groups of thugs are able to carry out with impunity a campaign of intimidation in the camps," Mrs Ogata said in a statement released in the East Timorese capital, Dili.

"I cannot remain silent while Indonesian authorities wantonly disregard the safety of humanitarian workers and refugees."

Recent attacks have forced the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to recall 750 workers, including 300 students, who had been mobilised to carry out the registration in 50 camps along the West Timor border from tomorrow.

The UNHCR said former members of pro-Indonesian militias threatened and stoned workers in four incidents, and damaged offices and vehicles. Soldiers fired shots in the air to allow staff in two camps to flee to safety.

In another incident, refugee officials said, several families being repatriated to East Timor were forced from buses. Crowds of militia members abused drivers while Indonesian soldiers took no action.

UNHCR officials said the registration scheduled to take place over three days was essential to pinpointing the number of refugees, assisting them and either facilitating their return to East Timor or helping them settle in Indonesia.

Aid workers in the camps report escalating violence and a campaign of disinformation aimed at preventing people's return to East Timor.

About half of the people remaining in the camps are militia members or from the families of members, or Indonesian military responsible for killing and looting rampages in East Timor last year.

The latest violence comes a week after UNHCR staff resumed operations in the camps following a two-week suspension because of local resentment of the refugees.

The Indonesian Government last year agreed to ensure unhindered access to camps and allow refugees to freely decide their future.

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