Subject: SMH: E. Timorese girl, 15, rescued from sex slavery in W.Timor

Sydney Morning Herald Monday, May 14, 2001

Girl, 15, rescued from sex slavery

Photo: "War prize" ... echoes of the case of Juliana dos Santos with militia leader Igidio Mnanek.

By Mark Dodd, Herald Correspondent in Dili

The plight of a 15-year-old East Timorese girl kept as a sex slave for more than 18 months in a militia-controlled refugee camp in Indonesian West Timor has highlighted the vulnerability of refugee children separated from their parents during political violence in 1999, the United Nations said at the weekend.

The girl, whose name cannot be released, was rescued this month from a camp near Kupang in West Timor after being confined by a Timorese couple who subjected her to repeated torture, beatings and sexual abuse. She has since been reunited with her parents.

The names of the couple and the camp where they lived have been suppressed because it could endanger a small group of people working to rescue other victims of similar violence.

Ms Bjorg Fredrikson, a Norwegian Community Services officer working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Dili, described the girl's ordeal to the Herald.

Ms Fredrikson, who is helping the girl during her recovery, said the girl was only 13 years old when she was separated from her parents and forced to join the exodus of East Timorese across the border during the height of political violence in September 1999.

It was shortly after her arrival in the militia-controlled refugee camps in West Timor that a cycle of child abuse began that was to last more than 18 months.

"The husband and wife went to bed and then asked her to participate. She said no and started to cry. She said they would kill her. That's when they had sex with her for the first time," Ms Fredrikson said, adding that the man's wife was a willing participant.

The girl said she was frequently beaten and continually warned she would be killed if she informed anyone about her treatment.

"In this situation she was obviously held as a sex slave for the amusement of the couple," Ms Fredrikson said. "She did not have anybody she could talk to. She had no confidence in anyone. She's just a little kid - just 15 years old. She has a child's body."

The girl's case has similarities with that of another East Timorese teenager, 16-year-old Juliana dos Santos, who was abducted in Suai in September 1999 by a leader of the Laksaur militia, Igidio Mnanek, as a "war prize".

UNHCR estimates as many as 500 children without parents are exposed daily to the threat of violence and sexual abuse while living in the militia-controlled camps.

UN humanitarian agencies closed down operations in West Timor after a militia mob stormed the UNHCR compound in the border town of Atambua last September, murdering three international staff.

Altogether 1,200 East Timorese children were reported to be scattered across Indonesia living in schools and boarding houses, including one small group who were being held in a mosque and had been forced to adopt Muslim names, Ms Fredrikson said.

In West Timor's lawless refugee camps, Indonesian authorities are unwilling or incapable of exerting control over the leaders of the pro-Indonesian militia gangs, most of whom are sought for war crimes committed in East Timor.

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