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Timor: situation in West Timor camps remains tense

Briefing notes

Timor: situation in West Timor camps remains tense

25 August 2000

The situation in the West Timor camps remains tense following the suspension on Wednesday of all relief activities in the aftermath of the attack against three UNHCR staff on Tuesday. Aid workers involved in health, water, sanitation and community services have stayed away from the camps. In most camps, a one-month food ration had been distributed within in the past few weeks, but there is at least one camp in the Kupang area where food distribution was scheduled to begin next week. We hope by then that measures would have been taken to ensure the safety of our workers and we can resume work.

Yesterday (Thursday), UNHCR representatives met with the West Timor provincial governor to discuss Tuesday's incident in which three UNHCR workers were severely beaten while distributing plastic sheeting at a camp outside Kefamenanu. The governor, Piet Tallo, said an East Timor man had been detained for questioning in connection with the incident. During the meeting, the governor also told his vice governor to participate in an investigation into the incident to be conducted with a senior UNHCR official from Jakarta. Meetings between UNHCR and Indonesian officials, including police and military, on the incident have been scheduled to begin tomorrow.

Our office in Atambua, however, continues to receive threats from the militias. The latest threat of attacks against UNHCR staff followed reports of the arrest earlier this week of a former militia leader in East Timor. Followers in West Timor of the captured militia leader, identified as Pedro Pereiro, have said they would mount protests against UNHCR unless he is released by UN Peacekeeping authorities in East Timor.

Even though we ceased repatriation activities, more than 100 East Timorese refugees have found their way on their own to the UNHCR transit centre in Kupang. They will be transported to Dili in East Timor by boat early next week. To keep them in Kupang for a prolonged period could put them at risk. For people along the border who wish to go back and can make it to our office in Atambua, UNHCR provides transport money and they find their way on their own.

The situation in West Timor remains alarming. Roadblocks set up last week by pro-Indonesian militiamen along the road from the West Timor border town of Atambua to Batugade in East Timor have not been lifted. UNHCR has called the attention of Indonesian military officials in Atambua about the presence of these checkpoints and the reported harassment of travellers. UNHCR and IOM have been using this route to transport returnees.

Nearly 170,000 East Timorese have returned since October 1999, while an estimated 125,000 remain in more than 200 different locations around West Timor.