Militia Control Camps - Hostilities Intensify

Published: Thu 23 Sep 1999 12:14 PM
Hostility Intensifies As Militia Gain Control Of Camps
By Selwyn Manning
As hostilities against western journalists and aid workers intensify in East and West Timor tonight, Scoop speaks to World Vision worker and journalist, James Addis. He has been camped up in Kupang, West Timor since Saturday night [NZ Time] and describes the scene there as intense.
Addis landed in Timor only to witness a scene of pandemonium. A state of human chaos. As international peacekeepers arrived in East Timor, militia were flooding over the border into West Timor. James Addis found himself on one side of the island and the peacekeepers on the other. In-between them was the militia.
However, James Addis lay low until he absorbed the danger of his surroundings.
On Sunday he ventured out. He saw refugees, accompanied by machine-gun-clad militia, arriving at Kupang. And today, Addis speaks of witnessing militia shouldering AK47s and firing volleys into the air.
Tonight, the situation in Timor remains extremely dangerous for westerners, particularly for New Zealanders and Australians.
Addis has seen thousands of militia brandishing arms. He cannot get near the refugee camps littered around the city. It is too dangerous. Such is the hatred which has intensified among the people since Indonesian President B.J. Habibie issued his invitation to the international community to help restore order in East Timor.
Meanwhile, children now show early signs of malnutrition: a thinning of limbs and a lightening of hair colour. Aid workers are rendered helpless as militia have taken control of the camps.
James Addis says: “On Sunday I was driven around Kupang, I wanted to see some of the refugee camps that are here.
“The militia seem to have quite an influence over the people living in the camps.My driver would not take me in close because he felt that if the people in the camps saw a foreigner in the car then they would start pelting the car with rocks and missiles.”
Refugees are being influenced by militia who have infiltrated the camps. Many of the refugees have abandoned hopes of independence and now openly support Indonesian rule.
“This is possibly because they have no alternative source of information, all they are hearing is the militia’s side of the story. There is a perception, a wrong perception I am sure, that the UN somehow manipulated the vote. The vote was very much a surprise to everybody here.
“People who are moderately pro-independence partly for safety reasons and partly due to coercion and intimidation have adopted a more co-interelation stance.
“Foreigners of course are seem as the people who have caused all the trouble in East Timor,” James Addis says.
Indeed the danger to foreigners in Timor is escalating. Gunmen wearing Indonesian Army uniforms shot dead a Dutch journalist who was working for Britain's Financial Times newspaper.
He was killed within an hour of arriving in East Timor on Tuesday.
The journalist was taken by motorcycle from the downtown Hotel Turismo to Becora, a known militia hotspot on Tuesday afternoon. Six armed men with machine guns motioned for the driver to stop. He tried to turn the bike around. Bullets rang out. There were 10 to 20 shots. The journalist was left lying on the ground. He was dead. Australian soldiers this morning collected the body from the rear of a nearby house and took it away. The body is believed to be that of Sander Thoenes, a Jakarta-based reporter in his early 30s.
Australian military officials have advised foreign journalists and aid workers not to travel alone.
Timorese refugees in the hills around Dili are still being terrorised by the pro-Jakarta militia and thousands of refugees have been forced into West Timor against their will.
James Addis suspects the militia are now on the move again. On Saturday the western end of West Timor was teaming with gunned militia. Now many have moved closer to the East Timor/West Timor border.
“On Saturday they [the militia] were very much evident, they were coming in with
refugees on buses and trucks. We saw these militiamen carrying their guns, sticking them out of the windows. But in the last few days I have seen less militia here in Kupang. That is not to say they are more evident closer to the border.”
From the streets of Timor, it is difficult to tell what the militia is planning.
“I can’t say I have been aware of what they are planning, but I do know that the situation is very tense. I keep asking people; are the militia likely to cause more trouble. The general response is a shrug of the shoulders. They just don’t know at this stage. All I can say is one hopes that the militia will disarm and that there will be peace.
“The official Indonesian Government line, B.J. Habibie was on the news yesterday saying if refugees want to go back to East Timor and if the East Timorese wish to be independent, then that is acceptable to Indonesia. The Government agrees that they should have their wishes met.
“They [the Government] seem to be genuine in that desire, but of course in the light of recent events it is hard to sort what is genuine and what is puffery.”
But there is dissension within the Indonesian Army ranks. James Addis says: “My perception is that there are some elements of the military which are out of control and may not represent the military as a whole. Many are disillusioned, obviously upset that East Timor is to become independent, and they are frustrated.
“Some of our World Vision staff close to the East/West Timor border found yesterday, as they left, the military coming out of East Timor were hassling them, being deliberately provocative, firing their guns into the air, into the trees, and generally venting their frustration.
“Generally being intimidating. Our staff wanted to get back to Kupang. They used
their military vehicles to black our vehicles. They wouldn’t let us past. Our staff got back to Kupang at about 4am unharmed.”
Conditions for refugees are worsening by the day. Close to the East/West Timor border sanitation is becoming dire: “World Vision is installing more water tanks and digging wells and building latrines.
“The condition of the refugees themselves is becoming quite serious. We have not yet had any serious outbreaks of disease but this is a worry.
“We have started to notice children are showing sings of malnutrition; they are becoming very thin, their hair is becoming discoloured, a sure sign of mineral and vitamin deficiency.”
The militia are in control of the large refugee camps. Aid workers can however get into the smaller camps.
“This morning I went to a place where East Timorese nuns were looking after about 50 children. These children had been left in the care of the nuns. They had organised transport out of East Timor for the children. A transport to safety.
“These nuns, with their 50 children, are living in two largish tin sheds, like where New Zealanders would place their garden tools.
“They are fairly miserable conditions.
“But all the kids were clean and smiling, inspite of their terrible situation. Many of the children’s parents have been left behind in East Timor. Perhaps they are still hiding in the forests. I asked ‘are you ever going to find the parents again?’ They just shook their shoulders and the nuns said ‘we try and not think about it’.”
James Addis will remain in Kupang until the weekend when it will be decided whether air workers are needed in the border regions. World Vision has deployed staff from Jakarta and Darwin to join the team already in East and West Timor.
Scoop will keep you posted.
Selwyn Manning - Scoop Auckland
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