East Timor Crisis: 200,000 are feared held hostage by the militias

EAST TIMOR CRISIS Refugees who have fled to the Indonesian-controlled side of the island are harried, hungry and preyed upon by terrorists

AS TROOPS of the multinational force landed in Dili yesterday, there were growing fears for up to 200,000 refugees who have either fled or were forced across the border into West Timor. In a report yesterday the United Nations Children's Fund estimated 190,000 to 300,000 refugees were hiding in East Timor, in addition to those who have fled to West Timor. Representing perhaps a quarter of East Timor's population, those in West Timor may now in effect be hostages of the militia.

The disquiet was shared by many aid agencies, who have reported that thousands of the refugees may be incarcerated in camps guarded by militiamen in the border town of Atambua and also around the West Timorese capital, Kupang. Meanwhile, militia leaders boasted yesterday that they would not lay down their arms. It was also reported by the government in Jakarta that the militia still number 50,000.

Many of those militiamen are believed to be in West Timor. The concern about their presence was relayed yesterday by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, to President B J Habibie at a meeting in Jakarta. Officials said she pressed him to guarantee access to the camps for humanitarian workers.

To what extent the Indonesian authorities are in control in West Timor, however, was still not clear. Mrs Ogata traveled to the province on Sunday but was allowed to visit the Atambua camp for only an hour. She was prevented from approaching any of the refugees. "She was not allowed to talk to them or inquire as to the conditions. It was, shall we say, a diplomatic visit," Mrs Ogata's spokesman said.

UN officials are concerned that the refugees may have become the hostages of the militia who mean to use them later to try one more time to thwart the independence process in East Timor.

"In the refugee camps in West Timor, there are also militia and they are terrorising people," John Sayer, Hong Kong director of Oxfam, said yesterday. "They are going through people who are either on the road or have reached the camps, looking for supporters of independence, young people who maybe have been active in the independence vote, singling people out and taking people away.

"Our big worry is that even with the peace-keeping force coming back in, the resettlement of people from West Timor - which is still controlled by the Indonesian authorities, predominantly the military, but still has a very large militia presence - will those people be able to return to East Timor? That is still a big question."

What is happening in West Timor and perhaps also in several other parts of Indonesia affected by influxes of refugees - for example Irian Jaya, the island of Flores and even Lombok, close to Bali - graphically illustrates the limits of the peace-keeping operation now under way.

The foreign troops are not authorised to cross into West Timor, which remains Indonesian soil. They are being asked to usher in a new era of independence and liberty for a province that is missing as much as one- quarter of its people. "Militias who had operated in East Timor are perpetuating terror in West Timor," the executive director of the Australian Council for Overseas Aid, Janet Hunt, said yesterday. "Accounts from reliable sources say that militias are searching for independence supporters and have been seen taking men and boys from camps."

Meanwhile, President Habibie is likely to face tough questions from sceptical Indonesian MPs today on why he let foreign troops flood into East Timor. The strength of the militia was spelled out yesterday by Major-General Sudrajat, the chief spokesman for the Indonesia army. He told reporters that Eurico Guterres, the head of the feared Aitarak (Thorn) militia and deputy commander of all the militias, had said he had 50,000 men.

Basilio Araujo, a spokesman for the National United Front, a new umbrella organisation for the militias formed at a rally inside West Timor on Sunday, warned that they would not lay down their arms and would fight to "free East Timor from the new colonialists". He added: "We know better our countryside, where to hide and how to avoid malaria mosquitoes. Let the UN troops die of malaria disease."

The chief of the Indonesian army, General Wiranto, insisted that fewer than 100 had died in the violence. "The number of victims that we have recorded since the announcement of the result of the referendum is roughly in the 90s," General Wiranto said. "That is the number that we have recorded so far. It is not the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands as reported by the foreign media."

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?