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Timor: intimidation in West Timor continues

Briefing notes

Timor: intimidation in West Timor continues

5 November 1999

UNHCR is very alarmed at the harassment by militiamen of UNHCR staff and refugees wishing to go home to East Timor from encampments in West Timor. The incidents of intimidation are happening almost daily now.

Today, militiamen stoned a convoy of six trucks which was to pick up 123 refugees who had volunteered to go back to Dili in East Timor from the Haliren camp at Atambua, the main town in the Belu district along the West Timor border. The windshield of one truck was smashed and glass splinters injured a UNHCR local staff.

Despite the incident, UNHCR staff were able to transport 1,150 refugees aboard two ferries chartered by the International Organization for Migration to Dili. Today's returnees constituted the largest group to return from the West Timor border port of Atapupu, 20 kilometres north of Atambua.

In Kupang, four airlift flights ferried 365 to Dili. Since October 8, more than 42,500 Timorese have returned from West Timor and other parts of Indonesia, around 13,000 of them returning on their own.

UNHCR has expressed concern to Indonesian officials in Kupang and Jakarta about the incidents of harassment. UNHCR staff have received support from police and military authorities on the ground but unless an effort is made to separate the militias from the camps and stop them from intimidating refugees, the repatriation effort will be very difficult.

UNHCR has also received queries about a report that two refugees had been abducted during a repatriation movement from Atambua. Two men in a UNHCR repatriation truck were arrested on reaching the port of Atapupu on Wednesday. Police told UNHCR at first that they were deserters. These two men, a father and his son, were later released and they told UNHCR that militiamen mainly wanted a motorcycle left behind, along with three cars they had earlier seized. The two men repatriated on Thursday.

UNHCR also has received a report from religious sources in Atambua that four refugees were killed by militiamen at Haekesak camp on the West Timor side of Maliana in East Timor. UNHCR has no immediate confirmation of the report. Likewise, UNHCR has no confirmation of reports that refugees spontaneously returning to East Timor had been stripped of their belongings on the West Timor side before being allowed to proceed across the border.