Subject: SCMP/Timor: Evacuated aid worker plans to go back despite ordeal

South China Morning Post Monday, September 11, 2000


Evacuated aid worker plans to go back despite ordeal


Organising communications between refugees in West Timor and their families in East Timor was Pur Nomo's first job after university. After graduating in electrical engineering, which he studied in Yogjakarta, 26-year-old Pur travelled first to the West Timorese capital, Kupang, and then to the border town of Betun to work with an organisation providing health and community care.

Pur's main task in the small town, which has only two markets and no telephone lines, was to make sure letters from refugees reached their families in East Timor and that replies were returned.

Pur, who has disguised his name for security reasons and cannot reveal the name of his organisation, is now in Dili, having been evacuated from West Timor because of the resurgence in militia violence that led to the murder of three international UNHCR workers.

Betun is now described by the Indonesian military as an "insecure area" and Pur said that when he left on Thursday, about 500 militia were roaming the town on motorbikes and in trucks looking for aid workers.

"As I left, I heard they were burning houses in a village near the town," he said at his organisation's office in Dili. "In Betun itself the situation was critical and everyone was scared."

There are about 30 small refugee camps around Betun holding 5,000 East Timorese refugees who were forced out of their country following the vote for independence last year. Pur said he was welcome in the camps because of his work but that militia made life difficult for staff from other organisations.

"The militia always intimidated refugees and NGO workers because the NGOs wanted to help refugees return to East Timor," he said.

The three months Pur worked with refugees were generally calm for his organisation.

"I personally had no problems with the militia as I would not talk about the issue of refugees returning," he said. "We only had local staff, not international, and that made things easier. But the UNHCR had a hard time and had to close down their office in July because of violence."

Pur would occasionally meet militia as they relied on his team to provide care and advice. But he never trusted them. "The militia had knives and guns and they continually intimidated the refugees," he said.

Militia violence flared up in Betun last week after the murder of militia leader Olivio Moruk on Tuesday.

According to Pur, the militia quickly mobilised themselves into a force and left the camps in convoys, heading for the town of Atambua.

As news filtered in by radio of the killings in Atambua, plans were made to evacuate Betun. The Indonesian military rounded up the nine aid workers still operating in the town and drove them in a military truck to the East Timorese border.

Despite his ordeal, Pur has plans to return to Kupang next week to continue his work. "I want to go back but the situation must be normal," he said. "I worry about the future for the refugees, many of whom don't have rice or money. I think they want to go back to East Timor, but I'm sure the militia and the Indonesian military won't let them."

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