Subject: BBC: UN starts 'critical' Timor mission; urges speedy action on refugees

British Broadcasting Corporation Sunday, 12 November, 2000

UN starts 'critical' Timor mission

Photo: The delegation will see if militias have been disarmed

By Richard Galpin in East Timor

A delegation from the United Nations Security Council has arrived in East Timor at the start of a critical four-day visit to the region.

Members said their top priority would be to ensure that more than 100,000 East Timorese refugees still living in camps in Indonesian-controlled West Timor would be allowed to return home.

The delegation was originally due to come in September following the murder of three UN refugee officials by militia gangs in West Timor.

After the killings, the Security Council passed a resolution demanding that the Indonesian government take immediate action against the militias.


They have controlled many of the refugee camps for the past year, preventing the East Timorese refugees returning home.

Initially, the government in Jakarta refused to allow the UN delegation to come, saying it smacked of interference in its internal affairs.

Photo: Refugees in West Timor have been left without help

Now, it has relented, having had two months to try and regain control of the situation in West Timor and collect at least some weapons from the militia gangs.

Initially, the delegation will assess the performance of the UN administration currently running East Timor, but the most important part of the visit will be when they cross into West Timor.

The brutal murder there of the three UN staff members sparked international outrage.

They were hacked to death and their bodies burned, after the UN compound in the town of Atambua was stormed by members of the same militia gang responsible for much of the violence in East Timor last year.

The UN and all other aid agencies immediately withdrew their staff from West Timor, leaving the aid programme for the refugees at a standstill.

Disbanding the militias

The delegation leader, Ambassador Martin Andjaba of Namibia, said members would assess exactly how far the Indonesian Government had gone in implementing the Security Council resolution, which explicitly demanded the disarmament and disbanding of the militia gangs.

Photo: Pro-Jakarta militias rampaged during the 1999 referendum

The resolution also called for the safety of refugees to be guaranteed, so that those who wished to return to East Timor could do so free of intimidation, and it demanded an end to cross-border incursions by the militias.

While there has been some disarmament of the militias, it is questionable how thorough this process has been.

It is also doubtful whether the militias have been disbanded, and refugees who have recently left the camp are still talking of intimidation to stop them returning home.

The ambassador stressed that his members had come only to review the situation and would then report back to the Security Council in New York.

But their assessment will be crucial - and not just in terms of Indonesia's future relations with the international community.

It will also affect the UN's decision on whether to resume its aid programme for the refugees in West Timor.

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