etmnlong.gif (2291 bytes) spacer For Immediate Release 
Contact: John M. Miller, 718-596-7668, 917-690-4391

Aid Worker To Give First-Hand Account of East Timor’s Refugee Crisis as Indonesian Problematic Registration Moves Ahead

Refugees Face Violence, Intimidation, Starvation, and Disease in Indonesian Camps

Additional background

May 28, 2001 - A national speaking tour by the head of an Indonesian humanitarian organization assisting refugees in West Timor begins this week. The East Timor Action Network is sponsoring the tour by Winston Neil Rondo, General Secretary of the Centre for Internally Displaced People’s Services (CIS). Rondo’s three-week national speaking tour will take him Los Angeles, Boston, Providence, New York City and Washington, DC. He is available for interviews.

Rondo has worked with East Timorese refugees in the West Timor camps since they were forced from East Timor in September 1999. In conjunction with international agencies, CIS has provided humanitarian assistance to thousands of families and children, investigated human rights abuses, counseled women victims of violence, and disseminated accurate information to refugees on repatriation to combat militia intimidation

The tour is especially timely as Indonesia prepares to conduct a massive one-day refugee registration in West Timor on June 6. The planned registration will require refugees to choose between returning to East Timor and remaining in Indonesia. Concerns regarding the registration voiced by CIS and other organizations in the West Timor include the prominent role of the Indonesian military and militias in the process, the continuing presence of weapons in the camps, and confusing registration materials.

“Refugees live in squalid camps, short of water, food and medicine… Each day five children die mainly from malaria and diarrhea and malnutrition in the camps… The greater proportion of the refugees in West Timor lives in a crisis situation. No freedom, no hope, and also no future,” stated Rondo during a recent Australian radio interview.

“We, along with Mr. Rondo, are gravely concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the West Timor camps. It is impossible for the refugees to make an informed choice about their future with continuing militia intimidation. The U.S. must act now to ensure that any refugee registration process has significant international oversight and participation,” stated John M. Miller, spokesperson for ETAN.

In presentations, interviews, and meetings, Mr. Rondo will share his experiences and analysis of the refugee crisis, and stress the need for genuine justice and concerted international action, supported by the U.S., to find a resolution to the refugee crisis. 

Rondo and his organizations have worked closely with Catholic Relief Services, Church World Service, UNICEF, and others.

In August 1999, the East Timorese people voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia in a U.N.-supervised referendum, ending a brutal 24 year-long occupation by the Indonesian military. Immediately following the ballot, the Indonesian military and militia groups it formed, armed, and directed conducted a month-long scorched earth campaign in East Timor. During this time, the military and its militias forced more than 260,000 people across the border into West Timor, often at gunpoint. In addition, they killed hundreds, raped an unknown number of women and girls, and destroyed three-fourths of the buildings and most of the infrastructure in East Timor.

Currently, East Timor is under a transitional U.N. administration, with full independence scheduled for early 2002. As of May 2001, between 80,000 and 100,000 East Timorese a tenth of the population are still in West Timor.

“The U.S. must pressure the Indonesian government to disarm and disband the militias. The East Timorese refugee crisis has continued for nearly two years because the Indonesian government has been unable or unwilling to disarm and disband the militias in West Timor and hold them accountable for serious crimes committed in East and West Timor, and the international community has not pressured Indonesia to do so,” said Miller.

“U.S. action is also needed to make sure that any refugees wishing to take part in East Timor’s upcoming elections are able to return to East Timor do so and to support the formation of an international tribunal on East Timor to prosecute crimes against humanity, including those of gender violence is vital,” he added.

In its January 2000 report, the U.N. International Commission of Inquiry on East Timor stated, “The intimidation, terror, destruction of property, displacement and evacuation of people [in 1999] would not have been possible without the active involvement of the Indonesian army, and the knowledge and approval of the top military command.” The Commission called for an international tribunal on crimes against humanity committed in East Timor.

The East Timor Action Network/U.S. was founded following the November 1991 massacre of over 270 East Timorese civilians by the Indonesian military. ETAN is a grassroots human rights organization supporting women’s rights, democracy, sustainable development, and comprehensive justice in East Timor. ETAN has 28 local chapters throughout the U.S.


Additional Background

Schedule of Tour events
Background on Refugees
Biography of Winston Neil Rondo

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