|Subject: CONG: Letter to Pickering
June 28, 2000
Mr. Thomas R. Pickering
Dear Mr. Pickering:
We are writing out of concern for the plight of the more than 100,000 East Timorese refugees still in West Timor, and the reported 11,000 to 30,000 forcibly displaced East Timorese elsewhere in Indonesia . Members of our staffs recently returned from a fact-finding mission to refugee camps in West Timor, and to Jakarta and East Timor. They met with Indonesian and East Timorese NGOs, church leaders, government and military officials, international aid workers, and U.S. Embassy staff. Their findings leave us eager to help resolve the ongoing refugee crisis.
More than nine months after hundreds of thousands were forcibly expelled to West Timor by the Indonesian military (TNI) and its militias in the wake of East Timor's overwhelming vote for independence, the vast majority of East Timorese refugees wish to return home but are afraid to do so. Contrary to international norms, the refugee camps remain highly militarized. Many East Timorese members of the notorious Battalion 744 live alongside civilian refugees, as do KODIM (local level TNI) troops. Our staff members witnessed TNI-supported militia leaders in clear control of the camps, and received repeated reports of militia access to modern weapons and TNI training of militias. Militia leaders, the TNI, and the West Timorese press continue to sponsor a mass disinformation campaign alleging horrific conditions in East Timor and abuse by international forces. This propaganda impedes confidence in a safe return home and grossly distorts reality; acts of retribution in East Timor have been miraculously minor given the terror campaigns of the Indonesian occupation forces and militias.
The delegation concluded that the situation in the camps - inadequate healthcare, widespread tuberculosis, a looming malaria catastrophe, and sporadic food distribution -- is nothing short of a humanitarian crisis. Since their return, flash flooding in West Timor has killed at least sixty refugees and displaced thousands more. Given harsh conditions now made far worse by flooding, the inability of refugees to decide in an environment free from intimidation whether to repatriate or stay in Indonesia, and the lack of accurate registration of refugees, we find limitations on U.S. aid for refugee care and maintenance and the enforcement of arbitrary deadlines for camp closure unacceptable. We strongly support the work of the UNHCR and ask that their lead be followed by the U.S. government in providing assistance in the camps. We also encourage the UNHCR to play a more active role in reintegrating refugees into their home communities in East Timor.
We urge the U.S. administration to increase pressure on the Indonesian government to fulfill past promises to disarm and disband militias. Militia leaders must be removed from the camps, arrested and extradited to East Timor to stand trial, and all TNI collusion with militias must cease. Economic disincentives for refugee return must also end. Lastly, humanitarian aid workers must have complete and open access to all refugees, including those taken off Timor island, to provide medical and food relief, and accompaniment.
Until the refugee crisis is resolved and those responsible for atrocities in East Timor are brought to justice under conditions meeting international standards, any re-engagement with the Indonesian armed forces will send a premature message of legitimacy to the TNI. This is particularly true of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) joint exercises planned for this summer. Last August, Indonesian soldiers went directly from a similar CARAT operation to East Timor, where they participated in massive destruction of the territory. Renewal of participation in CARAT does not encourage reform of the TNI. Administration claims that branches of the TNI set for involvement in this year's exercises (the Navy, Air Force and Marines) have cleaner human rights records are disingenuous; all were directly involved in the East Timor violence.
Thank you for your attention to these pressing concerns. We look forward to your reply.
Dennis J. Kucinich
John Edward Porter
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