Subject: NPR: Conditions in West Timor

National Public Radio (NPR)


December 14, 1999, Tuesday




More than 200,000 East Timorese refugees still are living in camps in West Timor. They fled their country last summer when a vote to secede from Indonesia led to violence from Indonesian-backed militias. Indonesia's military runs the camps in West Timor. The government has renounced its claim to East Timor. Pamela Sexton visited the region with the aid agency Grassroots International. She says a repatriation program has been put in place, but few refugees have chosen to return home.

Ms. PAMELA SEXTON (American Aid Worker): People in the camps are very afraid. People came up to me and told me that they wanted to leave the camps but that they were afraid. And they asked for my help. The people expressed to me that the military and the militias were terrorizing people. There were reports of women being raped, people being disappeared from camps, and again and again, people tell me that they were afraid. And as I was talking to people in the camps and they were telling me this, if a militia person or Indonesian military person came near us, they would change their conversation and immediately start saying that things were fine in the camps and that they wanted to stay there.

The main issue right now and the reason that people are unable to return is because of that security problem, because people are veritable hostages in many of these camps.

EDWARDS: People want to leave the camps, but there are still reports of people being shot at the border.

Ms. SEXTON: That's right. That's right. Well, as you know, it was about a month ago that Richard Holbrooke, the US ambassador to the UN, was in West Timor and he visited the camps, and he said many of the same things that I'm saying now. And he was able to broker a deal at that time between the Indonesian military and the international forces in East Timor to increase the repatriation effort. And for a few days after that agreement happened, the number of people repatriated increased. However, since that time, about a week after the deal happened, the numbers slowly started to decrease and now they've actually decreased to a level lower than before Holbrooke's visit.

EDWARDS: Tell me about conditions at the camps.

Ms. SEXTON: Humanitarian aid access is extremely limited. In one camp, I saw a grave that had 24 children in it aged two months to six years. And when I asked the cause of death, I was told it was diarrhea, a very preventable disease or illness. That situation of children dying of poor health conditions was reported in many of the camps that I went to. It's definitely one of the worst situations in terms of health, is children dying of preventable illness.

EDWARDS: Pamela Sexton traveled to West Timor with Grassroots International. She was a United Nations observer in East Timor last summer for the country's independence referendum.

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