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UNHCR deplores continuing violence in West Timor camps

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UNHCR deplores continuing violence in West Timor camps

14 July 2000

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees today denounced the continuing violence in the East Timorese refugee camps and said the Indonesian government's failure to live up to its commitments may force UNHCR to review its operations in West Timor.

"I am appalled and dismayed that small groups of thugs are able to carry out with impunity a campaign of intimidation in the camps," High Commissioner Sadako Ogata said in a statement. "I cannot remain silent while Indonesian authorities wantonly disregard the safety of humanitarian workers and refugees."

UNHCR has called off a programme to register this week an estimated 125,000 East Timorese refugees in West Timor after pro-Indonesian ex-militias threatened and stoned workers in four incidents, injuring one and damaging offices and vehicles. Soldiers had to fire shots in the air to extricate staff in two camps.

UNHCR was forced to recall 750 workers, including 300 students, mobilized to carry out the registration in 50 encampments along the West Timor border. The registration, which had been scheduled to begin on Wednesday and last three days, is essential in pinpointing the number of refugees, assisting them, facilitating their repatriation or local integration.

Just one week after resuming operations in camps in the West Timor provincial capital of Kupang following a two-week suspension, UNHCR staff have again been forced to halt activities because of local resentment against refugees.

"UNHCR must be allowed to play its part in resolving the refugee problems in West Timor, and the Indonesian government must live up to its commitments to provide adequate security in the camps. Otherwise, we will have to reconsider the whole range of our operations in the province," Mrs. Ogata said.

Under an agreement signed in October, the Indonesian government agreed to ensure unhindered access to camps and allow refugees to freely decide on their future. More than 165,000 refugees have returned to East Timor. UNHCR has repeatedly requested the government to maintain order in the camps, separate troublemakers from refugees and clarify the status of East Timorese enlisted in the Indonesian army, police and civil servan