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."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appeal
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Boxer Amir Khan will travel to Pakistan in bid to 'make a difference' in the wake of army school massacre
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly finalists Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridge
tvLive: Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridgeface-off in the final
Ched Evans in action for Sheffield United in 2012
footballRonnie Moore says 'he's served his time and the boy wants to play football'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture