Subject: UNMS: Refugees in West Timor face critical conditions

TITLE: Refugees in West Timor face critical conditions

June 8, 2001 News media contact: Linda Bloom·(212)870-3803·New York 10-33-71B{263}

NEW YORK (UMNS) - Although nearly forgotten by the international community, about 10 percent of the population of East Timor remains trapped in squalid refugee camps in West Timor.

That's the report from Winston Neil Rondo, chief executive for the Centre for Internally Displaced People's Services, a humanitarian agency based in West Timor. He spoke June 6 at a briefing sponsored by the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries - the same day that Indonesia was to conduct a massive, one-day refugee registration in a process criticized by Rondo's group and other organizations in East Timor.

Concerns include the participation of the military in the registration process, the lack of international observers and the pressure on the refugees to resettle in Indonesia rather than return to their homeland, Rondo said.

After a 24-year occupation by the Indonesian Army, the East Timorese people voted overwhelmingly for independence in a U.N.-supervised referendum in August 1999. Following that ballot, the Indonesia military and militia groups "conducted a month-long scorched earth campaign in East Timor," according to the U.S.-based East Timor Action Network, killing, raping and destroying most of the new nation's buildings and infrastructure.

East Timor remains under a transitional U.N. administration. Full independence is scheduled for early next year.

Rondo, a native of West Timor, has worked with East Timorese refugees there since September 1999. Cooperating with international agencies, his organization has provided humanitarian assistance, worked with women victims of violence, investigated human rights abuses and supplied accurate information about the situation back home.

The condition of those refugees "is critical now," he said, noting that children die on a regular basis. "Begging is common for refugee children. They have no education."

Refugees have had difficulty returning home because they have been separated from their families and because the camps are surrounded by militia groups that exert control and spread misinformation. "Intimidation and violence go on systematically in the camps," he explained.

Rondo believes churches can make a difference in the crisis by advocating for action. He and the East Timor Action Network, which sponsored his U.S. speaking tour, are calling for:

· Pressure from the U.S. and international community on the Indonesian government to disarm and disband the militias.

· Support for an international tribunal on crimes against humanity committed in East Timor.

· Creation of a credible refugee registration process with significant international participation and oversight.

· Adoption of a complete ban on weapons sales, training and support for the Indonesian military by the United States until these issues have been resolved.

Rondo noted that assistance also is needed for the citizens of West Timor, who have been affected by the refugee crisis.

The network's Web site, www.etan.org, has more information on concerns regarding East Timor.


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