Subject: DPA: UNHCR has new concerns about safety of refugees in West Timor

Deutsche Presse-Agentur September 12, 2000

UNHCR has new concerns about safety of refugees in West Timor Dili, East Timor

The United Nations refugee agency voiced fresh concerns Tuesday about the fate of an estimated 120,000 East Timorese refugees in Indonesian West Timor, amid reports that armed militiamen continue to roam freely.

"We have no reports whatsoever of conditions in the refugee camps but are gravely concerned about the security of the refugees as well as their continued access to food, medical services, water and sanitation," said Ellen Hanson, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Dili.

Continuing reports of armed militia being sighted in the streets of the border towns of Betun and Atambua, where many of the refugee camps are located, also raised concerns, she said.

Pro-Jakarta militiamen opposed to East Timor's successful split from Indonesia last year have been terrorizing the refugee camps and forceably preventing U.N. aid workers from repatriating the remaining 120,000 refugees to East Timor.

The harassment exploded into brutal violence last Wednesday when thousands of militiamen and pro-Indonesian East Timorese gangs attacked the UNHCR offices in Atambua, killing three international aid workers.

The U.N evacuated more than 120 employees from at least four different agencies operating in West Timor, and is refusing to return until the Indonesian government guarantees their safety.

The UNHCR had been, among other things, helping local government officials distribute food to the refugees, as well as provide health care and sanitation in the squalid camps.

The Indonesian government is now solely responsible for caring for the refugees, and providing food. About 1,600 metric tonnes of rice was stockpiled in West Timor and is ready for distribution to the refugees, according to UNHCR sources.

"We (UNHCR) believe Indonesian authorities are capable of distributing food to the camps," Hanson said. "It is very much the Indonesian government's responsibility to ensure their (refugees) safety and security."

However, Father Makti, a Catholic priest in Atambua, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa that the town remained insecure and unstable, which was thwarting relief efforts.

He indicated that militiamen were still roaming Atambua's streets, and said most shops and markets were closed. He said refugees were so desperate for food that they had threatened to loot private commercial warehouses where staples such as rice and cooking oil were believed to be stockpiled.

"It is quiet now, but we cannot guarantee what will happen in the next few days because thousands of people will need food and other necessities," Makti said.

The international community blasted Indonesia for the killings, as it did one year ago when militiamen and Indonesian army soldiers launched a murder, rape and arson spree in East Timor after its people voted for independence.

The U.N. Security Council passed an emergency resolution last Friday demanding Jakarta disarm and disband the militias, something the goverment was unwilling or unable to do during the past year.

Hanson said Indonesian security authorities assured the UNHCR that two companies of army troops from East Java were in Atambua to restore order, and the rest of two full battalions were on their way.

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