East Timor Update 09 Feb 2000

Over 130,000 East Timorese people have returned home since fleeing post-election violence in East Timor in September last year. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced as Indonesian military and militias wreaked havoc across East Timor, following an overwhelming vote rejecting integration with Indonesia in the 30 August referendum. Some 250,000 people were deported or fled to West Timor, and thousands of others fled to the hills in East Timor. An unknown number of East Timorese was massacred. With the arrival of the multi-national force, Interfet, law and order were slowly restored in East Timor and many people returned, to rebuild their shattered homes and lives.
Society is gradually taking shape and the construction of an infrastructure is under way. Houses are being roofed, products for sale on the market are increasing in variety, crops are being planted, schools are gaining desks and students. Not all developments are positive. Violence on the streets arising from rival gang clashes has been reported, coupled with rising social tension. Widespread unemployment has been blamed for the increase in local crime.

Efforts to repair the widespread damage in East Timor are coupled with a drive to bring to justice those responsible for widespread killing and havoc in the territory. A UN Commission of Inquiry to investigate the violence in East Timor issued its report on 31 January. The commission laid the blame for the destruction on the shoulders of the Indonesian military, a conclusion shared by an Indonesian commission also set up to investigate the bloodbath in September. The prosecution of high ranking generals - including army chief at the time, General Wiranto - has been called for, and President Wahid has concurred with this, although he has rejected the idea of an international tribunal to judge those arraigned.

In West Timor, life for the East Timorese still lodged in refugee camps is deteriorating. It is estimated that up to 130,000 remain in camps where militias are still active, intimidating refugees who wish to go home. JRS in West Timor reports that the majority of the refugees, an estimated 70 per cent, want to return to East Timor. Some are waiting for guarantees that their return will not bring retribution for crimes they may have committed during the bloody aftermath of the August referendum. It is expected that some refugees will not return to East Timor because of links with the militias, and will seek to resettle in West Timor or other parts of Indonesia. Refugees in the West Timor camps are living in miserable conditions. There are reports of lacks of water, basic hygiene and food which combine to breed disease and malnutrition.

JRS teams have been at work in West Timor since early September last year, entering camps to serve the refugees there. JRS in West Timor has been assisting refugees to return, in line with the overall purpose of JRS in East Timor to facilitate the safe and speedy return home of those who were displaced. Another vital aspect of JRS work in East Timor is supporting the Timorese people as they lay the foundations for a just and civil society. For these reasons, we chose two rural areas - Luro near Los Palos and the border town of Maliana - where everything had been destroyed, and residents forced to flee. JRS is also present in Dili. A JRS team of international staff arrived in Dili at the end of Septmber, some days after the murder of JRS East Timor director, Karl Albrecht SJ.

Peter Hosking SJ, acting JRS East Timor director, describes the general scene in each place as follows: "Dili seems a circuit of meetings with international NGOs. But at Maliana and Luro, the work is closer to the people. There is much to do in helping kids get back to school and supporting people in their efforts to re-establish themselves. Their health needs are great. There is still no electricity or running water but life is simple rather than tough."


Teachers are being recruited but experience and training is lacking. A wage salary system for teachers is still a long way from becoming a reality. At present, teachers are paid by UNICEF on a food-for-work basis which will soon be replaced by a stipend paid by UNTAET. In Maliana, Luro and Dili, JRS is working to enable Timorese principals and teachers to get schools operating again. Thanks to a generous donation from Singapore of 400 chairs and desks, JRS has been able to furnish a school in Luro, in the eastern part of the country. The school had begun operating a few weeks previously without any furniture.


Health needs are overwhelming. Thousands of people are in need of treatment for chest infections, malaria, skin diseases, TB and malnutrition. A recent survey showed that most cases of malnutrition were returnees from camps in West Timor. In Maliana, Isabel Guterres, a Timorese nurse trained abroad, is working with other NGOs to make a local health system operational. Apart from the work of Isabel, JRS has a team who attend to the medical needs of the Luro region. Led by Dr Hoa Trung Dinh SJ, the team travelled throughout the mountainous terrain visiting 13 villages and assisting the population of 11,000. Three out of the four medical clinics in the district had been completely destroyed, leaving only one clinic which serves 3,000 people. Hoa reported that: "People kept coming to our house, asking to be seen". On New Year's Eve, the JRS Luro medical team saw 189 patients. The JRS team worked closely with the local health care workers and provided medical supplies which should last for the coming few months.


Most of the East Timorese people still in West Timor are in large camps around Atambua, Betun, and Kupang. Others are in small camps or are staying with relatives or host families. Reports from camps are of core militia still intimidating the people, preventing the people from returning. Although many refugees in these camps want to return to East Timor, they are being fed misinformation by the militia. Many refugees will only believe that life in East Timor is safe when they receive letters, photos and direct news from people they trust and know who have returned to East Timor. Others have bought or rented land in West Timor and will stay there until harvest time in a few weeks. On a recent trip to East Timor, JRS West Timor took letters from the refugees to their families in East Timor and brought back letters and photos describing life back home.


An estimate of up to 89,000 refugees, by far the majority, are in camps around Atambua. JRS and workers of the diocese have access to the eight main camps: Haliwen, Labour, Atapupu, Nemak, Sukabitetek, Kolamsusu, Tenuboot, and Circa. The team offers pastoral care and support to the refugees. Militia presence in these camps is very strong. There are reports of them patrolling the camps at night and training militia in the Haliwen stadium. Many refugees are also living in Atambua with families or in small camps.


In Kefamenanu, near the Ambeno enclave, JRS has access to the main camps of Nain, Waybunosa, Haumeniana, Wini and Ololok. JRS works closely with the local church here to offer pastoral care and support to the refugees.


The situation in camps around Kupang is slightly different from camps elsewhere. These camps contain up to 10,000 refugees of whom the majority were government employees, police, military personnel and militia members. They now fear retribution on their return to East Timor. Before returning, they want to know if and how they will be held accountable for the crimes they may have committed. Many are expected to settle in West Timor or other parts of Indonesia.


Betun, a town at the southern end of the border, has the largest refugee population after Atambua. Numbers are estimated at around 26,000 East Timorese. Most of these live in the six main camps (Kletek, Atokama, Angkaes, Manumutin, Baleateu and Kada) or smaller camps, or with relatives and host families. The JRS team in Betun collaborates with the local church offering pastoral care and support to the refugees. The team reports that conditions inside these camps is very poor. "We saw a lot of cases of skin disease, probably scabies, and some older women had boils, also many eye infections and conjunctivitis," the JRS workers reported. "Many of the children had swollen bellies and many of the older refugees were extremely thin with little if any body fat. In Kletek, the camp leader told us that the refugees had begun to sell their belongings, including plastic sheeting and shelter materials to buy food." The 2,000 refugees in Atokama camp lack water. "There was a water container built by the Ministry of Public works but this may have been empty for 10 to 14 days". The camp is an enclosed environment with little air circulation. "Most of the children here had swollen bellies. We saw many children with scabies and two babies with infected rashes" the JRS team said.

=A9 2000. Jesuit Refugee Service