Subject: Age: West Timor Time Bomb Ticks [+editorial: Wahid must act]

also: [Age] editorial: Wahid must act in Timor

The Age [Melbourne] Sunday 10 September 2000

Time bomb ticks


The deep orange sun drops quickly into the ocean off Kupang. You will not see a more spectacular sunset anywhere.

But the deck chairs around the beachside swimming pool of the Kristal hotel are empty. Long gone, too, are the weekend holiday-makers from Darwin.

The last United Nations staff and workers from international aid agencies who had made West Timor their home packed up and left last week, deserting 126,912 Timorese refugees in squalid border camps. The refugees have relied on the UN for food and other essentials.

"West Timor is a time bomb," one of the last UN officials to leave told The Sunday Age.

There are grave fears of an explosion of violence among the refugees and West Timor locals, who are becoming increasingly fed up with troublemakers in the camps.

It will not be safe any time soon for foreigners to return to Indonesian-ruled West Timor.

As the charred bodies of three foreigners lay outside the smouldering remains of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the border town of Atambua last week, more than 3000 pro-Jakarta militia and their refugee supporters started chanting for more blood. "They were screaming that they wanted to find more foreigners to kill," said Indonesian journalist Antonius Un Taolin, who was there.

But several militia leaders, including Joao Tavares, one of the best-known from last year's bloodshed in East Timor, told them: "Three is enough."

The crowd eventually dispersed and the headless body of Olivio Moruk, a militia leader who was earlier murdered in strange circumstances, was taken back to his village for burial.

This was only the start of the trouble. Within hours, militiamen still enraged about Moruk's death went on another rampage, this time attacking Haekesak village, 30 kilometres east of Atambua and just five kilometres from the East Timor border. By Friday night, the death toll in the village was 11. The villagers, who have lived for decades in peace trying to make a living off the dry, barren land, are terrified of the militia thugs, who arrive by the truckload and carry machetes, iron bars and home-made guns.

Antonius, the West Timor correspondent for the Jakarta-based Gatra magazine, said leaders of the militia bands roaming West Timor detest foreigners, particularly Australians, who they blame for losing East Timor, which they still regard as their homeland.

"They believe that Australia worked too hard for East Timor's independence," he said.

But West Timor police chief Brigadier-General John Lalo pleaded for UN and other international agencies to return. "Where will the refugees get food?" he said. "The people will most likely turn to theft and they will most likely start stealing from their neighbors.

"We desperately need the continuing help of the international community."

But UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, outraged about the killing of the three UN staff, has made clear to Indonesia's President Abdurrahman Wahid that the UN will not return to West Timor until the country can guarantee foreigners will be protected.

General Lalo said: "We need a solution so that the UN can come back and continue working.

"The safety of the UN can be guaranteed only so far. Don't forget that many of these people are criminals. They do their work in the middle of the night. We can't watch them all the time." General Lalo said the militia and their families, facing a six-month deadline imposed by Jakarta for the camps to be closed, saw themselves being cheated out of their homeland.

He said that they represented the 21 per cent of Timorese who voted for East Timor to remain part of Indonesia in last year's UN-supervised referendum.

"They think that because 21 per cent of the people voted to remain part of Indonesia that they should be given 21 per cent of the territory," General Lalo said.

"There has to be a solution that recognises the rights of these people as citizens of East Timor."

On Friday night, West Timor's police, military commanders and political leaders held a summit in Kupang to discuss ways to try to avert further bloodshed. "They don't have the answers," an observer at the summit said later.

Facing international condemnation because of the UN killings, Indonesian authorities have set up a police and military taskforce to investigate Moruk's murder, which observers said provoked the mobs to attack the UNHCR office.

Atambua people have told investigators that strangers with short hair stopped Moruk 500 metres from his home and stabbed him to death. They then cut off his head and testicles. The head was found on Friday in a nearby drain.

Diplomats and analysts in Jakarta speculate that Moruk's murder was orchestrated by military hardliners in Jakarta who wanted to humiliate President Wahid.

The Age [Melbourne] Saturday 9 September 2000


Wahid must act in Timor

President Abdurrahman Wahid has now been exposed to the unanimous condemnation of the wanton massacre of three members of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees team in West Timor at this week's UN millennial summit in New York, the largest gathering of heads of state in history. The Indonesian President has promised to find the culprits and punish them. Two Indonesian army battalions have been sent to West Timor, and 15 "suspects" arrested.

However, other nations are fast running out of patience as the situation on the East-Timor-West Timor border slides into bloody anarchy. The humanitarian position is disastrous. Now that the UNHCR has been forced by the murderous mob rampage to withdraw from virtually all activities in West Timor, between 90,000 and 120,000 East Timorese refugees are at the mercy of the cowardly armed thugs who forced them to cross the border last September after the militia-led carnage.

Mr Wahid's government has made many commitments to stop militia intimidation in the camps and allow those who want to go home to do so. It has also undertaken to prevent militia incursions across the border. None of these promises have been kept, and there is widespread scepticism about the latest undertaking. Few doubt Mr Wahid's good intentions, but the will and capacity of his government to deliver have been exposed too many times as tragically inadequate.

To allay these concerns, Mr Wahid needs to announce a timetable for the return of the refugees to East Timor and the suppression of all militia activity. His first move should be to order the arrest of Eurico Guterres, leader of the notorious Aitarak (Thorn) militia, who has been identified as the instigator of this week's rampage. Guterres was recently released by an Indonesian court after being cleared of illegal possession of firearms when a judge ruled the charges against him were "too vague". As the Indonesian army-sponsored militias, led by Guterres, all but destroyed East Timor's infrastructure a year ago, absorbing such an enormous refugee influx - equal to about one-seventh of the territory's population - would be a daunting task. But their current misery, and daily threats of violence, even death, make the status quo untenable.

This time, if Mr Wahid cannot deliver, pressure for international intervention will build. The UN could extend its military role into the refugee camps, or the Association of South-East Asian Nations could become involved. Australia's interest is greater than most. Since Australian troops initially mounted and led the UN-authorised peacemaking force in the region, and our troops remain in sensitive areas close to the border, this week's developments suggest their stay may be longer than first thought. Even before the bloody rampage at Atambua, two UN peacekeepers were killed by well-armed militia members wearing Indonesian army fatigues. Now the ball is in Mr Wahid's court. He must act.

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