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Timor: militias' grip still firm in West Timor

Briefing notes

Timor: militias' grip still firm in West Timor

30 November 1999

On Monday, UNHCR staff opened a fourth repatriation corridor along the West Timor border in an effort to increase the pace of returns to East Timor. Over two days, since yesterday, more than 1,000 refugees went back through the newly opened Laktutus-Fatumean crossing.

Today, including the Laktutus-Fatumean crossing, some 1,600 people went back to East Timor. There were no returns today from militia-controlled camps in the Kupang area.

Nearly 110,000 refugees have returned to East Timor since UNHCR and IOM started the repatriation programme in West Timor in October. This was achieved at great risk to UNHCR staff and other relief workers who are confronted daily by militias. While there has been some improvement in the security situation, access to the camps remains very limited. West Timor is the only place in the world where UNHCR workers are heavily escorted by police and army troops when they go to the camps.

UNHCR has launched a mass information campaign using newspapers and radio. Go-and-see visits to East Timor by refugees and journalists in West Timor have been an ongoing programme. But we still cannot go into the camps to directly counter militia misinformation because the militias continue their grip. We continue to urge Indonesian officials to separate the militias from the refugees in the camps.

Based on government reports, around 140,000 refugees are still in the camps. The majority of these people are either families of militias, or of Timorese enlisted in the Indonesian army. While many of them want to go back, there are many outstanding issues to be resolved, including the question of pensions, jobs and property compensation. Most of these people want to be as close as possible to East Timor.

Aside from security problems in West Timor, we are now confronted with allegations of returnees being harassed when they go back. In the Ambeno enclave, returns have dropped sharply in the last week because of reports of harassment of returnees.