For Immediate Release
May 11, 2000
Links to reports and news coverage of delegation
ETAN Chronology updating refugee
situation since delegation's return (May-July 2000)
Contact: John M. Miller (718)-596-7668; email@example.com
Karen Orenstein, (202)544-6911
Returning Delegation Calls for U.S. and Indonesia to End East Timor
A delegation recently returned from a fact-finding mission to East
Timorese refugee camps in West Timor found that East Timorese refugees
remain under threat from militia leaders and members of the Indonesian
armed forces (TNI), who are preventing the refugees from returning to East
The delegation of congressional staffers, human rights advocates,
journalists, and a noted filmmaker returned on May 1from the week-long
mission. The delegation also visited Jakarta and Dili, East Timor, meeting
with Indonesian NGOs, church leaders, government and military officials,
as well as East Timorese NGO leaders and international aid workers.
"Despite Indonesian government and military denial of militia
presence in West Timor's refugee camps, there was obvious fear on the
faces of most East Timorese in the camps. Intimidation and tension created
by militia leaders was palpable," said Karen Orenstein of the East
Timor Action Network (ETAN), co-leader of the delegation. TNI-backed
militias continue to carry out a widespread disinformation campaign
alleging horrific conditions and abuse by international forces in East
Continued discovery of modern weapons in the camps points to direct TNI
collusion with militia leaders. Several separate reports of a low-level
training plan, based on the continuous drilling of fifteen militia members
by the TNI with five men rotated in and out at a time, further connect TNI
to militia repression. After an unplanned encounter involving a meeting of
militia leaders in the Cassa camp in Belu, delegation members were
informed by reliable sources of a large cache of weapons buried near the
militia meeting house. Several other such caches are believed to be buried
in three areas of the Belu region, each the property of a militia leader.
The militia meeting was led by Cancio Lopes De Carvalho, head of the
Mahidi militia, a known murderer widely believed responsible for the
killing and disembowelment of a pregnant woman. Delegation members were
not able to enter the Naibonat camp, located on a military base in Kupang,
due to unsafe conditions.
Over 200 refugee sites are scattered throughout West Timor, with more
than 100,000 total refugees in the province and 11,000 to 30,000 still
elsewhere in Indonesia. "While food distribution to large camps is
basic, access to food is sub-standard at the many smaller sites, some of
which consist of only five or six families," noted Indonesia
specialist Loren Ryter, a delegation participant. "We also noticed
many children with reddish hair a sign of malnutrition," added
Orenstein. Members of the delegation observed men in pro-Indonesia
t-shirts controlling the allocation of food brought into the Belu area by
Catholic Relief Services.
"The health care situation is extremely troubling. Continuous damp
and muddy conditions in the camps due to an unusually long rainy season
have exacerbated health problems. A malaria catastrophe looms once the
rains stop," said Ryter. The normal environmental malaria
prophylactic of fumigation will not work in the camps because spraying
cannot be done on plastic sheeting, and mosquito netting is in short
supply. There is an urgent need to increase the capacity of local health
care facilities, which were already taxed before the arrival of tens of
thousands of refugees. The April 1 cut in Indonesian government support
and subsequent withdrawal of the Indonesian Red Cross from the camps has
had a harsh impact on the health of refugees. Further, the recent
termination of a government program sending newly graduated medical
students to work in rural areas has hit communities with refugee camps
particularly hard. Shortage of vital medicines remains a severe problem.
"The East Timorese refugee crisis is also hurting the people of
West Timor. In some areas, the refugee population outnumbers the
indigenous community," stated Orenstein. Land for the camps has been
taken by the government of Indonesia with no compensation for local
residents, and aid to refugees is creating resentment among local West
Timorese. This may contribute to the destabilization of one of the poorest
areas of Indonesia.
"The best solution to the refugee crisis, repeatedly voiced by
humanitarian aid workers, is repatriation," said Orenstein. "The
only way to increase the rate of repatriation is to remove militia
intimidation and control of the camps. Militia leaders must be arrested so
people can feel safe to choose to return to their homes in East
Timor." The UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) last week
reported that the rate of repatriation has slowed to a trickle.
Genuine accountability for events in East Timor is crucial to achieve
full repatriation, as well as justice and reconciliation for the people of
East Timor. "Without exception, Indonesian and East Timorese NGO
leaders with whom we spoke had no faith in the newly forming Indonesian
process of justice. Overwhelmingly, East Timorese felt that East Timor
should not be the test case for the process of Indonesian accountability.
Many East Timorese suggested that cases within Indonesia should be the
test of Indonesia's justice system. They argue that trying and convicting
those responsible for ordering and committing military and militia terror
in East Timor is an international, not strictly Indonesian, issue and
should be treated as such," added Orenstein. Human rights legislation
does not yet exist in the Indonesian criminal code, and its creation is
being opposed by many factions of the Indonesian government and military.
"Continued U.S. pressure on the Indonesian government is critical
to both resolving the refugee crisis and realizing genuine accountability
for human rights abuses. The U.S. must maintain its current ban on
military ties with Indonesia, and strengthen conditions for lifting the
ban. U.S. officials should cease making public or private statements about
resuming military ties. Members of the Indonesian NGO community stated
repeatedly that the ban is the most critical point of leverage for reform
forces in Indonesia," said Orenstein. "The U.S. must also
support the establishment of an international tribunal in East Timor with
significant East Timorese and Indonesian participation."
The delegation was composed of congressional staffers Jaron Bourke from
the office of Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Daniel McGlinchey from
the office of Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA), and Jeannette Windon from
the office of Congressman John Porter (R-IL); novelist, screenwriter and
filmmaker John Sayles; human rights advocates Karen Orenstein from the
East Timor Action Network, and Pamela Sexton and Charmain Mohamed from
Peace Brigades International; Indonesian politics and history researcher
Loren Ryter; and freelance journalists Carolyn Robinson (CNN International
and Reuters Television) and Lisa Upton (Australian Broadcasting
Corporation and SBS).
The East Timor Action Network/ U.S. (ETAN), founded following the
November 1991 Santa Cruz massacre, supports a genuine democratic and
peaceful transition to an independent East Timor. ETAN has 28 local
chapters throughout the U.S.
Human rights group calls on Indonesia to disband
militia in refugee camps
Agence France Presse May 13, 2000
WASHINGTON, May 12
Human rights advocates recently back from a fact-finding mission to
refugee camps in West Timor on Friday called on the Indonesian government
to disarm and disband militias destabilizing the camps.
Stating that repatriation of the estimated 100,000 refugees back to
East Timor was down to a trickle, East Timor Action Network's Karen
Orenstein explained that the militias were intimidating refugees into
Militia members reportedly fear the shut down of the camps and complete
repatriation would leave them "exposed to physical threats from both
the Indonesian military and East Timorese because of what they did and
what they know," explained Jana Mason, Asia policy analyst at the US
Committee for Refugees.
Indonesian troops and militia groups face future trials for the gross
human rights violations that took place in East Timor when the territory
voted for independence last year.
But the process of accountability, Orenstein said, "is very slow
and proving to be more and more flawed." As a result, few militia
members are keen to return to East Timor, or allow others to return.
Moreover, according to congressional staffer Jaron Bourke who
accompanied the human rights delegation to West Timor, as many as 18
percent of the residents in one camp were still in the pay of the
"The fear and tension in the camps is very noticeable," he
"Many of them (refugees) want to go home. The main obstacle is the
presence of the militia leaders," said Bourke, staffer to democratic
congressman Dennis Kucinich.
"The solution would be to remove the leaders from the camps,"
Orenstein also pointed out that the camps, run by a hodge-podge of
non-governmental organizations and scattered across the province, were
facing a health crisis.
"The health care structure is very stressed to say the
least," Orenstein said, warning of a widespread outbreak of TB and
malaria due to a drastic lack or health resources and a longer than usual