Subject: Militias seal border at Oekussi to protest arrest

Militias seal border at Oekussi to protest arrest

DILI, East Timor, Nov 13 (AFP) - Pro-Indonesia militias are blocking refugees from entering the East Timor enclave of Oekussi to protest an arrest by multinational troops, UN officials said Saturday.

United Nations workers said the militias, angry at the arrest of the brother of a militia commander two days ago, sealed a key border crossing into Oekussi on Friday.

At least 1,000 East Timorese were stranded at the the Bobometo border crossing under "very poor conditions" Friday night, Ariana Quentier of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees told AFP.

Poor communications from the East Timor enclave, surrounded by Indonesian West Timor, meant that she had not received an update on the situation by Saturday afternoon.

Quentier said militias closed the border after peacekeepers in East Timor arrested the commander's brother.

"That having happened, the militias said, 'OK, no one can get through'," she said.

Another UN official said: "They have claimed 'if you don't handover my brother, we're not going to allow any more refugee movement across the border'" at Oekussi.

"So these guys mean business," the official said.

A spokesman for the International Force for East Timor confirmed a man was arrested two days ago, but he said he understood the man would be released later Saturday because there was insufficent evidence to lay charges.

The spokesman said he had no details about the arrest.

"I understand he is the brother of a militia," the spokesman said.

Quentier said militias closed the border after about 2,500 East Timorese refugees had gathered there to cross into the enclave from the Indonesian West.

"We still managed to get 1,500 people through," she said.

On Wednesaday, another 942 refugees were trucked to the border and crossed into East Timor after negotiations between aid agencies and the Indonesian military, she said.

Bobometo was the only Oekussi crossing, staffed by international aid workers, where refugees could enter the East Timor enclave.

Despite the problems, refugees have still been able to cross into East Timor proper every day at Batugade.

Quentier said more than 10,000 of the original 52,000 inhabitants of Oekussi have returned and about 28,000 more are expected.

An additional 25,000 residents of East Timor proper may want to enter East Timor through the enclave but it cannot support such a large number of returnees, she said.

Refugees alleged Indonesian army-backed militia forced them out of East Timor during an outbreak of murder, arson and looting after the September 4 announcement that East Timorese had voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia.

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