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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
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

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable