Subject: Militiamen Continue To Harm Refugees

Also: More than 119,000 former refugees have returned to East Timor

The Australian 22 Dec 99

East Timor: The refugee crisis continues

Militiamen still harassing refugees

By defence writer ROBERT GARRAN and agencies

MILITIAMEN continue to harass and intimidate refugees in West Timor with virtual impunity in spite of promises by Indonesia to restrain them, says a report by Amnesty International released yesterday.

The report came as state investigators prepared to question Indonesia's former military chief General Wiranto about the violence that gripped East Timor three months ago.

General Wiranto, who is now Minister for Security and Political Affairs in reformist President Abdurrahman Wahid's cabinet, will be the first high-ranking military officer to be questioned when he appears before the Investigative Commission for Human Rights Abuses in East Timor today. Amnesty's findings on refugees were reinforced by comments from Interfet commander Major-General Peter Cosgrove, who said there was no sign yet that returnee numbers had substantially improved.

"We probably would be looking for the rate of returnees to pick up in the next week or so," he said.

Out of about 160,000 East Timorese remaining in West Timor, it was believed between 90,000 and 100,000 still wanted to return home, Major-General Cosgrove said this week.

The Amnesty report said refugees remained at risk of threats, intimidation, harassment, extortion and in some cases unlawful killing, disappearance and sexual violence.

Making matters still worse, physical conditions were deteriorating as the rainy season continued, bringing an increase in disease and death from poor health and sanitation.

"Many refugees are still prevented from making a free and informed decision about whether to leave or stay because of ignorance of the choices available to them and because of ongoing militia threats and intimidation," the report says.UN divers found six bodies in a lake near Liquica in East Timor and fear nine more could lie beneath the mud, UN police said yesterday.

The find has heightened long-held rumours that the lake was where the bodies of people killed an April massacre by pro-Jakarta militia at a church in Liquica town were dumped.

----- More than 119,000 former refugees have returned to East Timor

GENEVA, Dec 21 (AFP) - More than 119,000 East Timorese have now returned to the territory -- most of them from Indonesian West Timor, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said here Tuesday.

With the exception of three minor incidents since Friday, UNHCR staff had also reported an easing of conditions in some militia-controlled camps in West Timor, spokesman Paul Stromberg said.

"UNHCR staff say that the situation, the atmosphere in the camps is improving, and they are now able to move around some of the more notorious militia-controlled camps without armed escorts," Stromberg told reporters.

In one incident Sunday at the Tuapukan camp, UNHCR staff arrived to show an information video on the situation in East Timor to refugees and were blocked, but not harmed, by an unarmed group, who also chased away the audience, he said.

Stromberg said UNHCR was continuing negotiations with the Indonesian authorities to reinforce security in the camps, emphasising the need for an overall improvement in the environment rather than just bodyguards for aid workers.

Repatriation convoys to East Timor will be put on hold from Thursday for four days over Christmas, and from December 31 until January 2.

Most of the 119,582 people who have returned to East Timor have done so under the repatriation programme of the UNHCR and International Organisation for Migration (IOM), launched October 8.

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