Timor Emergency Update
A group of about 30 militiamen attacked Timorese gathering near the police station in the West Timor border town of Atambua on Wednesday to join a UNHCR repatriation convoy, injuring two refugees.
Dozens of policemen were in a staging area for returns but made no effort to intervene, until UNHCR staff arrived with army troops who then arrested two of the militiamen.
UNHCR protested the incident, warning police officials in Atambua that it would be forced to suspend repatriation operations unless measures were immediately taken to stop militia activity.
The incident was the worst involving refugees since UNHCR started repatriations from Atambua late last month.
The militiamen arrived at the staging area at 8:30 a.m., clambered aboard 15 trucks, seized the refugees' belongings and beat up a pregnant woman and her husband. The two were hospitalized for minor injuries.
Around 20 incidents of harassment of UNHCR staff, relief workers and refugees in Atambua have been reported to authorities since 1 November. Despite protests to local authorities and officials in Jakarta, militia attacks have continued.
UNHCR was forced to cancel a scheduled repatriation on Thursday by ferry from the port of Atapupu, 20 kilometres north of Atambua, to Dili in East Timor after Wednesday's incident scared off some returnees.
However, 422 refugees joined UNHCR's overland convoy via the Motaain-Batugade crossing along the road from another area of Atambua.
UNHCR also led a convoy of 522 returnees from Kefamenanu, 120 kilometres east of the West Timor capital of Kupang, to the Ambeno enclave.
Thursday's repatriations brought the overall number of returnees since October to more than 75,000-47,400 organized and 27,700 spontaneous. Since the weekend, thousands of Timorese have been joining UNHCR convoys. As many as 6,000 refugees went home on Monday in the largest return movement so far in one day.