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U.N.: E.Timor Refugees Die As Militia Deny Access

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By Joanne Collins

DILI, East Timor (Reuters) - East Timorese are dying in refugees camps in Indonesian West Timor because pro-Jakarta militia are denying aid groups full access to the camps, the United Nations said Monday.

Nearly 160 refugees have died of malaria and diarrhea in the past two months in Tuapukan, near the West Timor capital of Kupang. The toll is expected to rise as the rainy season sets in.

Ariane Quentier of the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR told reporters they had been able to pay lightening visits to extract people who wanted to return east, but had had problems with longer assessment visits.

''It (the camp) was never closed to us but it was always very fast when people were moving out and you could never see what was really going on,'' she said in the East Timor capital Dili.

Quentier said the 4,000 refugees at Tuapukan were also told by militiamen they had to pay for medical assistance.

''Apparently there has been medical assistance but there is a lack of information. People were told they had to pay, so we have made it very clear they don't have to pay, they can have medical assistance for free,'' she said.

Militia have also been blamed for the substantial reduction in refugee border crossings in the past month. Quentier said the number of returnees had fallen 75 percent in the past month since an incident at Atambua -- 23 miles into West Timor -- where pro-Jakarta gangs attacked a convoy of 200 refugees assembled outside the town's police station.. ''The numbers have slowed down since the November 11 incident at the police station at Atambua ... at that time we had an average of 4,000 (returnees) per day and as of then its being going down, down, down.

''We had 2,000 two weeks ago and now it's less than 1,000.''

An estimated 250,000 East Timorese fled their homes amid the violence from pro-Jakarta militias which followed the vote for independence on August 30.

The U.N. estimates more than 113,000 have so far returned to the territory and have prepared for a further 130,000 to cross the border in the near term.

Quentier said taped messages from key East Timorese figures, such as independence leaders Xanana Gusmao and Jose Ramos-Horta and Catholic leader Bishop Carlos Belo, would be played in the camps this week to encourage refugees to return and to dispel many of the myths spread by the militia.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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