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Timor: UNHCR suspends activities in 3 camps

Briefing notes

Timor: UNHCR suspends activities in 3 camps

20 June 2000

UNHCR has suspended activities in three West Timor camps following three extremely worrisome security incidents on Friday and Saturday that point to a pattern of increased tensions. Activities have been halted in Noelbaki and nearby Tuapukan and Naibonat camps, near Kupang, following consultations among humanitarian agencies. Local authorities have been notified of the halt and the government informed that UNHCR cannot resume its activities in the camps - which have a total population of more than 24,000 - without security guarantees. These include a separation of the "bad elements" inside the camps and a clarification of the status those camp residents who are former employees of the Indonesian government and military.

The first incident occurred during a repatriation in Betun (Belu District), while the other two occurred in Noelbaki camp, where UNHCR staff were victims of two separate, but related security incidents. The Betun incident on Friday involved an ex-militia member who disrupted a repatriation by climbing aboard an IOM truck and intimidating one returning refugee on the pretext of repayment of debt. A group quickly gathered to block the vehicle. Military escorts who were present did little to intervene. The situation was eventually resolved when the ex-militia member, who was armed with a machete, stepped down from the truck.

The second incident occurred on the same day in Noelbaki camp, near Kupang, when a UNHCR vehicle was commandeered by a group of nine East Timorese refugees who forced their way into the vehicle. Issuing a series of violent threats, they forced our driver and an international staff member to drive them to Kupang. Neither staff member was hurt, but both were shaken by the ordeal.

The final incident occurred on Saturday afternoon when UNHCR staff and Indonesian officials attempted to meet with refugee leaders to discuss the previous day's incident at Noelbaki. Shortly after arrival in Noelbaki and for an extremely tense two hours, the group was blocked from leaving the camp, threatened and manhandled by an uncontrolled mob of 60-70 persons. In a fit of rage, one machete-wielding refugee broke the windscreen of a UNHCR vehicle as two staff members sat inside. Although senior government, military and police officials were present, they were powerless to either prevent the violence or contain the mob. Eventually, refugee leaders were able to calm the situation and staff were able to leave. No one was hurt, but they were shaken.