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Timor: militias harass returnees unchecked

Briefing notes

Timor: militias harass returnees unchecked

9 November 1999

UNHCR today expressed grave concern at a series of incidents in which militiamen in the Kupang and Atambua regions of West Timor harassed UNHCR staff, relief workers and refugees. At least 18 such incidents have been reported in Atambua alone, including physical attacks, stoning and firing of guns in the air.

In a letter sent on Tuesday to Indonesian Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab, UNHCR's Regional Representative Rene van Rooyen said that while co-operation between UNHCR staff and provincial authorities in West Timor is generally good, there has been no effort to intervene and arrest the perpetrators of those incidents.

Mr. van Rooyen said that UNHCR cannot expose its staff to continued security risks and is urging the Indonesian government to take necessary steps to separate the militia elements from the civilian populations in the encampments. He said that this will not only increase the security of both the displaced persons and the humanitarian workers in West Timor, but also enhance Indonesia's credibility in the international community and enable the accelerated return of all those who wish to return to East Timor.

Mr. van Rooyen also called today on Hamzah Haz, Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare and Poverty Alleviation, to raise the same security concerns.

Repatriation operations continued today. Two IOM-chartered ferries transported 1,123 refugees from Atambua to Dili and airlift flights from Kupang took around 400 Timorese from Kupang to Dili. So far, more than 52,000 have returned to East Timor, including 17,800 who went back spontaneously.