Subject: East Timorese vow to forgive ex-militiamen

The Jakarta Post March 27, 2002

East Timorese vow to forgive ex-militiamen

Yemris Fointuna, The Jakarta Post, Dili

East Timorese residents want their compatriots -- including former anti-independence militiamen -- currently sheltering at refugee camps in East Nusa Tenggara to return home, signifying their full acceptance in their homeland.

Pro-Indonesia militias were blamed for the rampage in East Timor when it voted to break away from Indonesia in August 1999.

The violence forced some 250,000 people to flee to East Nusa Tenggara for safety, but many of them have returned home.

The remainder -- about 128,000 refugees -- are reluctant to return to East Timor, despite the threat of starvation in the camps, until after the UN-administered territory becomes a fully independent state on May 20.

The Indonesian government has ceased the supply of food assistance to the refugees and has offered two choices: repatriation or resettlement in Sumatra, Sulawesi or Kalimantan.

The halt to food aid has created food shortages in the camps. Local residents have complained of some cases of intimidation, violence and blackmail by refugees struggling to feed themselves.

Some pro-Indonesia refugees fear revenge may be taken against them by pro-independence East Timorese if they return home, though their leaders have vowed to guarantee security for returning people.

East Timorese residents living in the districts of Baucau, Viqueque and Lospalos said they missed their fellow townspeople still in East Nusa Tenggara.

"There is no revenge planned for proautonomy (Indonesia) East Timorese. Those involved in the murders and scorched-earth activities in East Timor will have to face the law. Civilians have no right to try them. They should come home and stay in their respective houses," Marito Reis, temporary head of the Baucau administration, told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

He said at least 600 refugee families from Baucau were still living in East Nusa Tenggara.

"They used to be civil servants, police, soldiers and civilians. Some of them have been identified as former members of militias involved in the post-ballot scorched-earth activities in East Timor," Marito added.

Support for the repatriation of refugees also comes from Francisco da Costa, 58, head of Baucau village, who has pledged to accept militiamen willing to return.

"If there are militia members wanting to return home, please go ahead. We will not take revenge against them nor ill-treat them. We want to live in peace," he said.

Viqueque tribal leader Joao Matheos da Costa, 66, said he and local residents were ready to protect all returning refugees, including proautonomy ones, from any possible attack.

A similar opinion was voiced by Agustino Soares, a 23-year youth from Watulea village, and Abili da Costa, a resident from Viqueque.

They told the Post that the youths of East Timor did want to see the future of East Timor destroyed again merely due to different political aspirations of locals.

"Although we are divided on our political ideology, we still love those still in West Timor. We don't have a sense of revenge, although some of them used to serve as militiamen," said Agustino.

Anything they are guilty of should be tried by the courts, he added. "We will return their houses, land and other assets to them."

In Lospalos, 30-year-old Aramando da Costa from Lautem district said on Monday: "Many of our brothers are still in West Timor. If they return home, we will welcome them warmly. The law has taken effect. There is no 'jungle law' here because we want a democratic country".

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