Crisis spreads to West Timor
UN forces arrived in Dili yesterday, but E. Timorese refugees in the
Early this month Mariano, a little boy with round eyes and a blank, worried expression, watched from his hiding place in a tree as a man took a "big knife" from his belt and struck one of his older brothers.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Soon afterward Mariano and another brother fled East Timor. Now the two boys - Joo is 9 and Mariano is 7 - are staying with dozens of other refugees in a hurriedly built shack on church property in Kupang, the capital of West Timor.
But these people are safe only because nuns are hiding them from the same kind of men who attacked the boys' brother. As an international force prepares to restore order to East Timor, a second humanitarian and human-rights crisis is emerging in the neighboring province.
Approximately 150,000 refugees in West Timor remain under threat from militias backed by Indonesia's military. These groups attempted to sway East Timor's Aug. 30 referendum on independence through intimidation and violence. And once the overwhelming vote in favor of breaking away from Indonesia was announced, they began driving East Timorese from their homes, killing those suspected of favoring freedom, and razed the capital, Dili.
The Australian commander of the UN-authorized international force, Maj. Gen. Peter Cosgrove, visited Dili yesterday as part of an advance planning team. His troops were expected to arrive in Dili today. "My main task is to protect those people of East Timor who, because of their status, are unable to look after themselves," he said.
Terror campaign continues
In West Timor, however, the militias' government-backed campaign of terror continues. Militia members are patrolling refugee camps looking for certain individuals, some of whom have subsequently disappeared or been killed, according to local clergy members and international relief workers. One militia leader has been living in a military compound in Kupang and using a vehicle with license plates reserved for official use.
Indonesian authorities have promised to disarm the militias in West Timor, but it seems that little is being done to stop them.
"Everyone is going around with guns, big guns," says one nun, who requested anonymity. "It's terrible. We live in fear now."
This nun and other clergy in Kupang are sheltering refugees, providing them with air tickets to other parts of Indonesia and trying to reunite separated family members. But the refugees in the care of religious institutions are fortunate; most are in huge camps where militia members operate with seeming impunity and where conditions are grim.
At one camp, refugees said the government was providing each person with 2.2 pounds of rice and 3,000 rupiah (about 50 cents) every five days, along with water and some shelter. But some families were living on open ground, with almost no possessions with only a blanket rigged up to shield them from the sun.
There are eight portable toilets for 12,000 people at Noelbaki, the largest camp in Kupang, according to local aid workers. Because of militia threats and attacks against foreigners, the camp is off limits to international visitors - particularly whites.