Subject: SMH: Home from horror camps

also: H From hills and caves, Timor's lost come out of hiding

Sydney Morning Herald
Saturday, October 9, 1999

Home from horror camps

PHOTO: Scorched earth ... despite the efforts of Interfet forces, suspicious fires break out daily in Dili. Photo by AFP.

By MARK DODD, Herald Correspondent in Dili

Women and children wept and one man kissed the ground as the first group of 91 East Timorese refugees arrived home from refugee camps in Indonesian West Timor yesterday.

"We are so happy. We are crying because we've come back to the fatherland and, for the many people we have left behind," said one teenage girl.

Their arrival capped days of frustrating negotiations between officials of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Indonesian authorities in Kupang.

An agreement has now been reached for at least two evacuation flights daily from West Timor, UNHCR officials said. A second flight carrying another 90 refugees was expected in Dili late yesterday.

A United States State Department official, watching the arrival, said news of the successful repatriation would probably trickle back to the West Timor camps which, he said, were awash with militia propaganda alleging Australian atrocities against East Timorese.

"Right now the only information they are getting is from the militia, and based on that they are not likely to come back quickly."

About 250,000 East Timorese remain in West Timor, many crammed into squalid refugee camps controlled by the same militia responsible for the devastation in their homeland.

Many were ordered out of their homes at gunpoint, herded into trucks or ships and deposited across the border in an Indonesian military operation that followed the landslide vote for independence on August 30.

The UNHCR team leader in Kupang, Mr Craig Sanders, said: "I would describe their physical condition as fairly precarious. A lot of people have been living outdoors without access to sanitation."

The first group of returnees were mostly women and children from the Dili area, many looking exhausted and gaunt.

As they filed down the ramp of the cargo plane, Australian troops provided a protective cordon as one orange-beret officer from a detachment of Indonesian Air Force special troops tried to photograph the refugees.

The refugees were then taken to their temporary home at Dili's football stadium, where about 1,500 displaced people are sheltering.

One of the Australian soldiers shot in a gun battle with East Timorese militia was due to be transferred from Darwin to Sydney for specialist medical attention late yesterday. The 26-year-old was wounded by a bullet which shattered the bone below his knee. A second soldier, a 34-year-old, is said to be recovering in hospital in Darwin.

Sydney Morning Herald Saturday, October 9, 1999

From hills and caves, Timor's lost come out of hiding

Dili: Slowly, and in the most unexpected places, the lost people of East Timor are beginning to emerge and place themselves in the care of Interfet troops and aid agencies.

It is still only a trickle, and the whereabouts of up to 400,000 people who fled the purges of bloody pro-Indonesian militia are yet to be found.

British Gurkha troops on patrol discovered one lot of 1,600 refugees hiding in caves on the far eastern tip of the territory. They had just three days of food left, and their only water pump was broken. Urgent medical supplies are being organised.

In Suai, near the border with West Timor, news has spread by bush telegraph that the Australians and others are now in control after initial bloody clashes with the militia.

A group of about 30 who arrived in the battered town - for months a militia stronghold - said they and the many others they had left behind in the hills urgently needed food and medical help.

"There are thousands living in the hills," said Mr Albert Montz, 22.

"Many people are sick and everyone is hungry. We need help as quickly as possible."

Meanwhile, the Interfet commander, Major-General Peter Cosgrove, planned to meet with Taur Matan Ruak, the ground commander of the pro-independence group Falintil that has fought Indonesian rule since the occupation of East Timor in 1975.

They were due to discuss a reconciliation and disarming plan. Interfet has agreed that Falintil can remain armed within its cantonments for the meantime, contrary to the UN mandate for initial forces to disarm all non-military.

"If he [Ruak] accepts the proposal that we put forward ... you will see hopefully that we will engage all parties and then obviously lead to a reconciliation and laying down of arms," said an Interfet spokesman, Colonel Mark Kelly.

Falintil has agreed in principle to disarm but refuses to do so until all of the 1,400 remaining Indonesian soldiers leave East Timor.

Several hundred East Timorese civilians gathered yesterday morning at Dili port. They jeered Indonesian sailors loading trucks, shouting: "Get out of our country, you scum!"

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