Subject: Situation in West Timor deteriorating: UNHCR

Situation in West Timor deteriorating: UNHCR

DILI, East Timor, Nov 7 (AFP) - A fresh flurry of militia incidents, including one attempt to detonate a hand grenade, has caused the plight of refugees in Indonesian West Timor to deteriorate, a UNHCR spokesperson said Sunday.

Ariane Qentier, spokesperson for the the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) based in Dili said her colleagues based in West Timor's Atambua region reported an increase in incidents aimed at intimidating refugees and UNHCR staff.

"We are working in a very hostile environment, the situation is deteriorating by the day," she told AFP quoting a colleague in Atambua, the main town in the Indonesian district of Belu in West Timor that shares a border with East Timor.

The most serious incident at the weekend occurred when a member of the militia threatened to detonate a hand grenade before being disarmed by Indonesian soldiers, she said.

No further details were available on who the man was threatening or in what part of Atambua the incident took place, but Quentier said it had occurred during the movement of refugees from camps in Atambua region to boats to ferry them back to East Timor.

The grenade incident occurred two days after militias fired rounds into the air holding a convoy of seven trucks carrying 200 refugees to boats in Atapupu, north of Atambua, on Thursday.

Quentier said other incidents ranging from verbal threats to stone throwing had taken place in the past several days to intimidate refugees and international refugee workers.

"This is clearly intended to impede the return of displaced persons," she said.

She expressed her deep frustration with the lack of access to the refugee camps for UNHCR workers in West Timor, who are restricted to five minute visits at the time when returnees are actually collected.

"Our major problem is access to the camps. Who knows what is going on inside there," she said.

On Saturday, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Radhika Coomaraswamy said "we have been receiving cases of rape, of sexual slavery in the camps, we are very concerned about what is happening in West Timor."

Quentier said however, that one promising development in the return of refugees would take place on Monday, when a convoy carrying between 500 and 600 returnees would cross the border at 10:00 a.m. (0400 GMT.)

The convoy of 12 trucks will make the 45 minute journey under escor provided by the TNI and the Indonesian police who will hand the refugees to UNHCR official at the border of Batugade.

To date, only one organized land border crossing of just over 100 refugees has taken place.

As of Saturday evening more than 28,000 East Timorese have returned by chartered flights and boats, while more than 13,450 people have returned voluntarily on foot.

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