Subject: The Australian: Why Carlos was left to die in East Timor

THe Australian September 8, 2000

Why Carlos was left to die in East Timor

By Don Greenlees, Jakarta correspondent

HOURS before he died, Carlos Caceres-Collazo clearly harboured fears for his life, sending an email to a friend in faraway Macedonia saying he felt like "bait" for the West Timor militia.

But he kept his worries to himself. Outwardly to his colleagues, Caceres-Collazo, a Puerto Rican lawyer, remained confident.

When his boss – the head of the Atambua office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Alias bin Achmad – told him to leave his post, Caceres-Collazo said no.

"Where could I go?" Caceres-Collazo asked.

"Home," Mr Achmad said.

Hours later, 31-year-old Caceres-Collazo was one of five UN staff cut down by machete blows from a mob of militiamen who stormed into the office. The victims had kerosene poured on them and were then set on fire.

As they died, Australian and New Zealand helicopters were minutes away in East Timor. Why they failed to arrive in time to save the UN staff was the subject of debate and denial yesterday, with Australia rejecting suggestions its red tape held back the best-equipped team.

Telling the harrowing story yesterday of the death of Caceres-Collazo and colleagues Samson Aregahegh, an Ethiopian, Pero Simundza, a Croatian, and two local workers, Mr Achmad accepted blame for the decision not to evacuate the office before the militia attack.

The UNHCR in the West Timor border town had at least three hours' warning that a huge convoy of militiamen was on its way.

Mr Achmad was worried enough to seek advice from local police and military about the security situation. He was assured there was unlikely to be any trouble.

However, it was decided to reduce staff numbers from more than 20 to about nine, with 11 armed policemen stationed outside as protection.

It was a fatal error. Mr Achmad said that when 50 to 100 militiamen arrived on motorcycles at 12.15pm, all that was left to do was implement an agreed escape plan – jump the back fence to hide in a neighbour ing house.

Reflecting on his failure to order an evacuation earlier, Mr Achmad said: "(It was) unlucky in the sense that we were wrongly assured in this case by the police and the military that things would not go out of hand. And I think, at the same time, also an error (of judgment)."

But the question remains, how could the UN have left its people in the field when evidence had been mounting of a serious threat to their security?

UNHCR staff spoke yesterday of a common reluctance of staff to pull out and abandon refugees because of the difficulties of then re-opening an office. Among UNHCR evacuation plans was an understanding that the fastest way out would be an airlift by UN forces in East Timor.

But this evacuation plan was founded on two factors that broke down in Atambua on Wednesday: an individual judgment by UNHCR staff in the field to order an evacuation and a misplaced faith that Indonesian police and soldiers would not stand by and allow foreigners to be killed.

Caceres-Collazo had his doubts. He wrote to his friend in Macedonia when he heard the militia were coming that "we sit here like bait, unarmed".

"These guys act without thinking and can kill a human being as easily (and painlessly) as I kill mosquitoes in my room."

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