Subject: SCMP: Bleak Future For Abandoned East Timor Militia

South China Morning Post Saturday, May 11, 2002

Bleak future for abandoned militia

Unable to return to East Timor and without supplies, disarmed remnants lose hope

CHRIS McCALL in Noelbaki Camp, West Timor

Among decrepit huts, a few hundred disgruntled and demoralised East Timorese militiamen are pondering a bleak future, a shadow of the terror they once were.

On May 20, their worst nightmare will become reality. East Timor will become an independent state, ruled by former foe Fretilin, the party that spearheaded resistance to Indonesian rule. For many residents in Noelbaki camp in West Timor, this may be the point of no return.

Abandoned by the elites that created them, many ex-militiamen do not know what they will do. They have been disarmed. They live under constant watch by the military. Now the Indonesian Government wants their camps closed. After May 20, Jakarta will not treat them as "refugees" but as ordinary citizens. Food aid stopped several months ago and the camp residents all complain of hunger, although none appears to be starving.

Members of one family have packed their bags, and sit by their dismantled house with everything they own. They are waiting for transport to carry them across the border to their home in Baucau.

But for former Aitarak militiaman Ernesto Ramos, 25, going home is not an option. Back in his home town of Viqueque, "we are still terrorised by our pro-independence brethren", he said. "For example, we are hit."

He admits he has not been to Viqueque since fleeing East Timor on September 19, 1999. But others who returned later brought reports to West Timor, he said.

There should be guarantees of safety for returning militiamen like him, Mr Ramos insisted.

Certainly, many people back in East Timor believe some militiamen should be tried for atrocities that they committed against people who opposed Indonesian occupation.

The Aitarak militia, for one, is blamed for much of the destruction of the East Timorese capital, Dili, in 1999, and for several massacres ahead of an overwhelming vote for independence that year.

The sightly built Mr Ramos does not say much about what he did in 1999, but insists there must be amnesty for militia members. If not, they will stay in Indonesia forever. They are ready to talk to Xanana Gusmao about amnesty, he added, but the East Timor president-elect has yet to visit the camp despite talk of reconciliation.

Most of the former militiamen's leaders also stay away these days. Some have good jobs with the Indonesian Government. Aitarak leader Eurico Guterres has not visited the camp for over a year. He came a few times when he was living in Kupang, but never since he moved to Jakarta. He should come, Mr Ramos says, "so we can know precisely what he says".

Even so, Mr Ramos said it was up to the new Government in Dili to ensure things did not go wrong in East Timor. For the Timorese, it was hard to forget a grudge. Feuds could rage on for seven generations, he added.

"If it is bad, we will have a war again," he said.

The militiamen would go back and fight. "East Timorese against East Timorese. We are ready. Even if there are no weapons, we still will go back. We have our land of birth," he said.

But there may not be a place for them any more.

Noelbaki, one of three large camps outside Kupang, is a sorry sight these days. Many of its makeshift houses have been pulled down. The militiamen's angry defiance that made foreigners fear to enter has turned to fear.

Indonesia, embarrassed by a continuing UN ban on travel to West Timor for most of its staff, wants the future of camp residents settled by year's end.

For one of the women living at Noelbaki, it is all too much. Fighting back tears, she asks what it was all for.

"We have all suffered in this camp, for what? We don't know," Domingas Enrique said.

But one thing is certain, she says. She will not go back to East Timor. It would just be too unsafe, and probably too painful. One of her three children was born in this camp. Her life is now on this side of the border, like it or not.

"My decision is that I am really, really Indonesian. I choose integration, even if I suffer in a camp," she said.

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