The 1,500 refugees airlifted to safe havens in Darwin, Australia, have been moved to special accommodation centers in Perth, Sydney and Melbourne. IOM is organizing their voluntary return to East Timor. The returns began on October 28; and to date, a total of 342 have sought voluntary repatriation via IOM.
As of October 31, all Indonesians military troops have left East Timor.
The United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke, along with Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Stanley Roth, traveled to Kupang and Atambua camp to assess the conditions there. An agreement was signed between INTERFET (the Australian led international peacekeeping force) and the Indonesian military to speed up the returns of East Timorese refugees. This agreement will hopefully lead the Indonesian military in West Timor to clamp down on militia activities to allow refugees to return.
Last week militias attacked a UNHCR convoy, injuring two refugees. The militias continue to operate openly in refugee camps, and reports have surfaced that some militias are allowing refugees to return only if they leave all their belongings behind. Conditions in the camps continue to be precarious; recent reports suggest that 100 children have died due to poor conditions and lack of doctors and medical teams. Most succumbed to respiratory conditions and diarrhea. In East Timor, the devastated infrastructure has increased fears of epidemics such as cholera and measles.
UNHCR has called upon the new Indonesian vice-president, Megawati Soekarnoputri, to honor the government's commitment to allow full and free access to all West Timor camps by UNHCR staff. Militias currently restrict UNHCR's access and preclude a vast majority of refugees from voluntarily repatriating to East Timor - an accusation denied by militia leader Eurico Guterres. Active militias in West Timor are estimated at some 15,000 men, according to international aid workers. Rape, killing and other physical violence continue in the camps. UNHCR representatives in Atambua have suggested that if the militia intimidation and violence does not cease, they may have to extract UNHCR staff from the area.
The situation of children in West Timor camps and in East Timor itself has not been fully addressed. Reports suggest that some 40 children have been abducted from West Timor refugee camps and forced into the sex trade in Denpasar and Jakarta. Forty percent of all refugees in West Timor are reportedly under the age of 15. In East Timor, where many have repatriated already, schools remain destroyed, teachers have all fled, diseases have begun to spread, and counseling programs to treat traumatized children have yet to be initiated. Families have yet to be reunited. One hundred children have been registered with the Red Cross in Dili as missing. The actual number may be much higher.
The Indonesian commission of inquiry into violations of human rights in East Timor (directed by the National Human Rights Commission, or Komnas HAM) has announced its interim findings. The commission found that some 220,000 refugees are in 3 areas of West Timor (Kupang, Kefamenau, and Atambua Belu). The commission noted with concern that certain pro-Indonesian militias freely operate inside camps, and in one case fully controls the camps. Witnesses say that the militias have kidnapped and raped girls, recruited young men and boys, and begun "sweeping" operations to hunt for pro-independence supporters.
Komnas HAM has announced that they believe Indonesia's top military generals, including General Wiranto, masterminded the wholesale destruction of East Timor following an "unfavorable" vote in August. United Nations rapporteurs have arrived in East Timor and will likely recommend the creation of an international tribunal.
INTERFET has confirmed that militias are responsible for raping, killing and burning in Oekussi, the East Timor enclave geographically surrounded by West Timor. More information has emerged describing wholesale violence and destruction against the inhabitants of the enclave including death by hacking and decapitation. As INTERET expands its sphere of control in Oekussi, refugees have slowly begun to return.
Following the appointment of a new Indonesian Minister for Transmigration, it remains unclear whether plans to resettle East Timorese refugees elsewhere in Indonesia (including Irian Jaya, Maluku and East Nusa Tenggara) will be carried out. Fear still remains that some East Timorese have already been resettled, with little information available on possible coercion.
INTERFET has reached its maximum strength, including participation from Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Thailand, United Kingdom and the United States. Its mandate will end by March 2000, when it will be replaced by 8,950 soldiers and 1,640 police under the guidance of the United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor (UNTAET). UNTAET will be led by Mr. Sergio Vieira de Mello, 51, a Brazilian UN diplomat. UNTAET will maintain administrative, legal, and judicial control over the territory until January 31, 2001.
Aceh Could Be Test Case For Rest Of Indonesia
Although President Abdurrahman Wahid has stated that he will personally handle the situation in Aceh province, he has yet to travel to the troubled area to search for a solution to the problem. Thousands of non-Acehnese Indonesians have been displaced over the past two weeks as they flee the province prior to December 4, the anniversary of the Free Aceh Movement's unilateral declaration of independence. Most have fled to other areas of Indonesia where they have family.
Following a massive show of support for a referendum in Aceh, Wahid has again called for a referendum to be held within seven months. However, the military and other lawmakers have publicly stated their dissatisfaction with Wahid's remarks. They hope to find a solution that will keep Aceh within the Republic of Indonesia. Fear remains high that should Aceh be allowed to leave the Republic, other troubled areas (including Riau, Irian Jaya, areas of Sulawesi) will seek independence as well.
In Aceh this year, some 150,000 to 200,000 people have been displaced due to conflict between the Free Aceh Movement and the Indonesian military.
Violence continues in Ambon (Maluku Islands) following sectarian violence. Troops have killed six people during recent riots between Christian and Moslem groups. Earlier, President Wahid ordered troops to fire on rioters to maintain order.
November 24, 1999
Copyright 1999, USCR