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Timor: UNHCR urges dismantling of roadblocks

Briefing notes

Timor: UNHCR urges dismantling of roadblocks

22 August 2000

On Sunday, a group of pro-Indonesian East Timorese in the border town of Atambua in West Timor harassed a UNHCR staff member while he was walking to lunch. He was pushed around and taunted, but was luckily unhurt.

One worrying development is the reported setting up by former members of East Timorese militias of roadblocks along the road from Motaain in West Timor to Batugade in East Timor. Travellers on this road were reportedly harassed and money extorted from them. Businessmen were particularly targeted and sometimes their goods were confiscated. UNHCR staff have urged Indonesian authorities in Atambua to dismantle these roadblocks.

UNHCR is using the Motaain-Batugade road to transport East Timorese returnees. Around 100 East Timorese refugees have registered in Atambua to go back to East Timor, but we are concerned that with the militias roaming around with impunity we may not be able to help them repatriate. The number of returnees so far stands at about 170,000.

Since late July when an upsurge of cross border incursions by militiamen based in West Timor was reported, UNHCR and IOM have stopped sending repatriation convoys overland. UNHCR activities along the border camps remain low key, and only five of UNHCR's 12 staff members have returned since they were pulled out two weeks ago as a result of increased security incidents.

There have been no significant developments on Indonesian proposals to rein in activities of East Timorese militias in West Timor or to dismantle the refugee camps.