BACK DOOR Newsletter on East Timor .........home ...... Oct news

"Returns [of 'refugees'] to East Timor suddenly increased when some leaders, who had hitherto been staunch supporters of autonomy in Indonesia, decided to recognise independence and advocate repatriation to East Timor, taking with them a large number of refugees. Repatriation in these circumstances account for over 75% of the returns since 14 September - clear evidence of the influence that militia/UNTAS leaders still wield over refugees in West Timor. The delays and contradictions on the part of Indonesia illustrate not only lack of will to resolve a problem that it caused itself, but also a lack of interest in clarifying the past and avoiding the same mistakes in the future." East Timor Observatory
See also:

BD: 'Refugees' & Missing Persons / 'Refugiados' e Desaparecido / 'Réfugiés' ou Déplacés
BD: Pro-autonomy Movements / Pró autonomia Movimentos / Partai pendukung otonomi
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Observatorio Timor Leste

We should all understand that Liberation of the Fatherland is only half the objective of independence.
After independence, Liberation of the People constitutes the other half of the objective of independence.
(Xanana Gusmão, 1999)

East Timor Observatory

Ref.: SE12-2001/10/25eng

Subject: Indonesia places refugees’ repatriation to East Timor in the hands of pro-autonomy leaders



The outcome of the June Indonesia-organised registration/survey of East Timorese refugees, which revealed that 98% of 295,000 refugees wanted to stay in Indonesia, really shocked the Jakarta Government; UN estimates put the figure between 50,000 and 80,000. In view of the financial and social costs involved in resettling the refugees, the Indonesian authorities are changing their strategy and are now supporting the repatriation to East Timor efforts, regardless of the responses given by the refugees last June.

Returns to East Timor suddenly increased when some leaders, who had hitherto been staunch supporters of autonomy in Indonesia, decided to recognise independence and advocate repatriation to East Timor, taking with them a large number of refugees.

Repatriation in these circumstances account for over 75% of the returns since 14 September - clear evidence of the influence that militia/UNTAS leaders still wield over refugees in West Timor.  The delays and contradictions on the part of Indonesia illustrate not only lack of will to resolve a problem that it caused itself, but also a lack of interest in clarifying the past and avoiding the same mistakes in the future.


Indonesia: Antara, Bali Post, Detik, Gatra, Kompas, Media Indonesia (MI), Tempo Magazine, The Jakarta Post (JP);

West Timor: Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), NTT Eks pres (NTTX), Pos Kupang (PK), Radar Timor (RT), Timor Post (TP);

East Timor: Suara Timor Lorosae (STL); UN: High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Transitional Administration (UNTAET), Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), International Organisation for Migration (IOM); international press.


1. Registration and choice

The registration exercise of 6 and 7 June, which was organised by Satgas, a working group created by Indonesian central government, was meant to determine the precise number of refugees and whether they wished to remain in Indonesia or return to East Timor.

a) Of the 113,791 people over 17 years old who were registered, 111,540 said they wanted to remain in Indonesia (98%); 1,241 said they wished to be repatriated (1,1%), while 1,010 were not clear one way or the other. These final results, announced by ambassador Amin Rianom, of the Ministry of Political, Social and Security Affairs, correspond to 53,825 families and a total of 295,751 refugees. Over 20,000 of these were civil servants, explained Rianan: 3,363 former servicemen, 1,894 former police officers, 750 military forces support personnel, and 14,085 civil servants (OCHA, 21-6).

b) Allegations that the figures had been manipulated were denied by the authorities, who admitted that there had been “calculation errors, not manipulation” (JP, 13-6). In August, Pake Pani, Deputy Government of NTT Province [West Timor and neighbouring islands], “confirmed the manipulation of data by heads of camps”, that had been intended increase the aid being received, but serious fraud was said to have been limited to 340 families, i.e. 11,606 people [4%] (JP, 21-8).

c) Various meetings between journalists and refugees revealed that some of those registered were Indonesians who had lived for a time in East Timor, and who, at this stage, were not entitled to return to East Timor.

d) Nani Kosapilawan, spokesperson for the NTT Government, said that Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare, Jusuf Kalla, had given the NTT Government until the end of the month to come up with an accurate figure for the number of refugees in West Timor (RT, 13-10). The reply came from the local welfare service chief, Husein Pancratius: 143,803 refugees [less than half of the June registration’s 295,000].

A temporary choice ?

a) “I chose Indonesia. But I want to be resettled in [West] Timor. I’d rather move to a border area than be resettled outside the island so that I can return to East Timor when it’s safe there”, explained one refugee; another said he would return “if East Timor’s first polls in August [2001] proceed smoothly” (JP,12-6).

b) The 12 international observers of the June registration pointed out in their report that they could not confirm the results, but that they did not witness any “physical intimidation directly”. They said the results ought to be regarded as the refugees’ choice “on the day of registration and not as an indication of permanent intention” (UNTAET, 19-6).

c) After a government meeting, Agum Gumelar, Minister for Political, Social and Security Affairs, stated: “we hope that it is a temporary choice” (AP, 21-6), and later added: “we received information that many refugees wanted to return home but were waiting to see the results of the 30 August election before making up their minds” (TP 29-6).

2. Refugees and the local population

a) 23 former militiamen are arrested following disturbances in Atambua; “We will no longer tolerate delinquent refugees”, said Military Regional Commander, Willem da Costa (AFP, 10-7). He gave orders to arrest the armed militiamen, and to kill them if they resisted (Kompas 3-8, quoted by the BBC). The police said they had seized weapons: guns, homemade weapons, grenades, ammunition, spears and machetes. “No one was arrested” (AP, 20-8).

b) There is growing tension between the local population and refugees: at a meeting with Minister Agum Gumelar, locals ask for refugees to be made to leave, and set a final date for their departure – 17 August; the refugees threaten to appeal to the UN if they are forced to leave (Gatra, 12-7).

c) Refugees occupy lands (JP, 26-7), destroy houses and shops; representatives of the local population ask security forces to disarm them (Media Indonesia, 26-7, PK web, 8-10). The government, army and police are “getting fed up with the refugees”, says the Bishop of Atambua (The Age, 27-7). Belu’s Legislative Assembly asks that measures be taken to prevent deforestation by the refugees (OCHA, 3-8) but the head of forestry services, Valentinus Kellen, says that the refugees “had no alternative” after the UNHCR left in September 2000 and in view of inadequate Government support (NTTX, 13-10). A survey shows that the refugees were not the only ones responsible for deforestation: 319 refugees and 202 locals were identified (PK, 11-10).

d) Hundreds of refugees occupy the Belu Governor’s offices and produce evidence of fraud in the payments being made to them (RT e PK, 4-8).

e) José Ramos Horta appeals on behalf of children who have been separated from their parents (Sydney MH, 22-8). About 130 children are said to have been sent to Catholic orphanages in Java by Horácio Soares (nephew of former governor Abílio Soares) who is suspected of indoctrinating them against independence. 1,200 children are believed to be separated from their parents. Horácio Soares has opposed several attempts by UN agencies to contact the children. It was only in September, after insistence by the UN, that the Indonesian Government agreed to support a meeting between some of the children and their parents at the UNHCR delegation in Bali.

f) Militia/UNTAS leaders, João Tavares and Domingos Soares, reiterated their rejection of the elections and their intention to continue to fight against independence in East Timor (Detik com, 31-8).

g) It has been four months since the refugees received Government aid, Rp 1,400 (0,16 US$) and a ration of 400 grs. of rice per day; the local health centres are no longer visited by medical staff, and the schools have been closed (JRS, 29-8; JP, 1-10).

h) Kosapilawan says the refugees received aid for two years and have become dependent on it. Now the Government wants to concentrate on repatriation and resettlement programmes (JP, 4-10).

i) “The Indonesian Government keeps saying how they are committed to resolving the miltia and refugee problems”, said one senior UN official, “but the reality is that they are still doing precious little” (Washington Post, 8-9).

3. Resettlement in Indonesia

a) Erna Witoelar, Minister for Resettlement and Regional Infrastructures, announces that the number of refugees is higher than expected, and that funding for resettlement is insufficient (RT, 11-6). The Government had only expected 24,000 families, and is asking for international assistance (JP 18-6).

b) The Government of the Kupang Regency refuses any resettlement in its area (OCHA, 11-6). “This rejection is not a recent decision but has been the case ever since East Timorese refugees were first moved to Kupang” said Chris Dillak of the Kupang District Secretariat (BBC, 13-6).

c) The province cannot take in more than 6,000 families, says Piet Tallo, Governor of NTT Province: “They have chosen to remain in Indonesia, therefore they should be prepared to be resettled anywhere in the country”, he said (JP,12-6). “... they should accept that they cannot choose where they will be resettled. They should not try to oppose this decision”, said Willem da Costa (Bali Post, 12-6).

d) Most of them will be relocated on islands outside Timor, said Satgas spokesman Usman Abubakar (OCHA, 15-6).

e) Regional Legislative Assembly president, Nico Wolly, believes the best solution would be for them to settle in an area close to the border (Antara, 17-6).

f) At first, the plan was to resettle most of them on other islands but, in view of the economic crisis, the authorities have reconsidered. (AP, 21-6).

g) “The problem of refugees is being closely monitored by the international community. We do not want to give the impression that the Indonesian nation is not handling it seriously”, said Minister Gumelar (AFP,27-6).

h) Church leaders and local NGOs (Forum Dialogue) tell ministers that the people do not want hundreds of thousands of refugees; if 98% chose to remain it is because there was pressure – political and financial – and human rights abuses, to force them into staying (NTTX, 28-6).

i) UNTAS leader Agostinho Pinto wants to meet Minister Gumelar to inform him that the refugees do not want to leave the camps and, especially, do not want to leave West Timor (PK, 28-6).

j) There are very few houses for the refugees: with regard to the resettlement program, Willem da Costa said: “no houses in East Nusa Tenggara had been built as yet, except in Belu district, where 145 had been constructed” (JP, 2-7). The Governor of Kupang says there are 700 houses for refugees in the district. 670 are ready (RT, 3-7). Five distant provinces (Southern, central and eastern Kalimantan, Irian Jaya and Molucas) are offering land on which refugees can build their houses, said the Minister for Transmigration (JP, 3-7). The Government is preparing locations for resettling 1,500 families on the island of Sumba (OCHA, 20-7). The EU had donated 6 million Euros (Kompas, 6-9) and the US has pledged $US 2 million worth of assistance for resettlement of those who choose to stay in Indonesia (OCHA 21-9). Piet Djami Rebo, head of the East Nusa Tenggara office of the Ministry of Resettlement & Regional Infrastructure, said that 2,300 houses had been built in 2000; 1,500 are to be built with EU funding; five districts in West Timor, Flores and Sumba had offered land. (JP, 26-9).  Yoseph Setiohady, head of Transmigration services, said that the Government was providing 5,000 houses in Timor and Sumba (JP, 4-10). The refugees/local population ratio would be 40:60 or 50:50 (JP online, 22-10).

k) “Camp life is much costlier than repatriation expenses”, said Pake Pani.
The Government is offering a bonus of between Rp 7 and 15 million (US$800 to 1,700) to families who decide to return (JP, 21-8). Former soldiers are being provided with allowances of between RP 9 million and Rp 17 million according to rank. The Government will set aside Rp 100 billion (US$10.5 million) in funds to pay the pensions of about 6,000 East Timorese who worked as servicemen or civil servants when East Timor was still part of Indonesia (JP, 19-9).

4. Repatriation

a) Refugees who told journalists they had chosen repatriation asked not to be identified. (JP, 11-6); the candidates for repatriation are unable to obtain from the administrative services the information they need on the procedure to follow. They do not want to be identified (Antara, 20-6).

b) The Government has decided to extend Satgas’s mandate until October, announced its president, Basyiruddin Yusuf, and to give those who decided to stay in Indonesia the chance to change their minds and to be repatriated (Antara, 15-6). Repatriation will intensify from 15 June to 15 August (JP, 18-6).

c) Several sources have given figures for returnees. Some reports are unconfirmed and some returns are unexpected. Satgas organised 160 returns on 15th and 18th (Antara, OCHA, 15-6) and Battalion 131/Braja Sakti Commander, Lt. Col. Agung Risdhianti announced that at least 310 crossed the border to East Timor ‘illegally’ on 10, 16 and 18 because, on the people’s request, the border checkpoints had been removed (NTTX, 2-7; STL 3-7).

d) On 10 July, Bernard Kerblatt, UNHCR chief for East Timor, announced that 666 refugees had been repatriated, and that only a few of these had been in the group of 1,250 people of over-years (about 3,700 with their families) who had asked to be repatriated: “That was one month and three days ago.  Where are these people (who requested repatriation). Why aren’t they coming?” ... “They are out in the open, without any international protection in these camps, and more or less subject to intimidation” (AFP e The Age, 10-7).

e) Satgas announced the repatriation of 502 by boat (Kupang-Dili) on 23 July (OCHA, 20-7); only 179 of these actually materialised (UNTAET, 27-7). The Radar Timor newspaper stated: “With these returnees, the total number of returnees since the June registration is 510 households or 1,651 persons.” (RT, 4-8); [a reported 1,304 returns organised by Satgas between 6 and 19 July (OCHA, 20-7, quoting the IOM) has not been confirmed by independent sources and is probably the result of the word “June” being omitted, in which case the correct period would be “between 6 June and 19 July”. 1,651 returns in early August is the last reported total found. Between that time and 12 September, we only registered one new report: a caravan of 114 refugees (Reuters, 28-8).

f) Many refugees are requesting information about health, schools, agriculture, and development in East Timor. The decision by President Megawati to increase the pay of the military, police, civilians within the military (Milsas) and civil servants within the armed forces (PNS), may make a decisive impact on people’s decision about returning (JRS, 29-8).

g) The biggest repatriation exercise took place on 14 and 15 September in the presence of Xanana Gusmão. It came in the wake of several meetings, backed by UNTAET, Bishop Belo and 59 traditional leaders, between Xanana and Câncio de Carvalho, former commander of the Mahidi militia. Câncio announced that he accepted the outcome of the 1999 popular consultation and was prepared to appear before a court. A few days earlier, the place in West Timor where Câncio had been explaining about the repatriation process had come under attack by other militiamen; repatriation forms were stolen, and motorbikes burned. Militia leader, João Baptista Amaral, and 3 others were arrested by Indonesian police following a complaint lodged by Câncio (RT, 13-9). The total number of returnees was 1,174 (UNHCR, 18-9), over and above the 961 listed (AFP and RT, 14-9). Câncio de Carvalho and his brother Nemésio, former deputy commander of the Mahidi, return to Indonesia to organise further returns (RT, 13 and 15-9). “A long awaited upturn in refugee returns from West Timor may be under way,” said the IOM (AFP, 14-9).

h) On 15 September, the UNHCR manages to repatriate 8 children who had been separated from their parents since 1999 and living in orphanages in Java.  “Their return is seen as a breakthrough, which could pave the way for the return of up to 1,200 separated children” (UN Information Dept., 18-9).

i) Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare, Jusuf Kalla, tries to give an impression of success: “so far, an average of 10,000 refugees are being sent back to their homeland every month” (JP, 19-9), he said, giving no further details. The Radar Timor newspaper reports that the figure was actually 13,263 from September 2000 to July 2001 (RT, 5-10). According to the UNHCR, there were 9,485 from March to October, with a significant increase (3,233) in the latter month (AFP, 30-10) [an average of 1,185 per month].

j) At least 500 East Timorese who formerly served in the Indonesian armed forces have already returned home: “It is their right... they should not be prevented”, said Willem da Costa. He also pointed out that many of those who now want to return had said they wanted to stay at the time of the registration in June (JP, 19-9).

k) The largest groups of returnees are being led by former pro-autonomy leaders who have now decided to go back: 371 with Helio Moniz on 19 and 20 September. The NTT police chief, Jacki Uly, said that this return “shows the world that the Indonesian police and military support this process” (UNTAET, 19-9; OCHA, 21-9). On 17 and 18 October, two groups return: over 500 are connected with the same Helio Moniz and 839 with Nemésio de Carvalho who, although he had agreed to appear before a court, was granted conditional liberty due to lack of evidence. Xanana Gusmão was present at each of these repatriation exercises (UNTAET, 17-10; OCHA, 19-10).

l) In addition to the groups organised “by prominent refugees”, others register spontaneously with Satgas for repatriation (NTTX, 26-9). [According to several available reports, between 7 September and 18 October, 3,233 refugees returned, around 90% of them were among the groups accompanied by the ‘prominent refugees’. The backing of the former militia/UNTAS leaders seems, therefore, to be a decisive factor].

m) Hundreds of demonstrators at the Numponi camp demand the release of João Baptista Amaral (see 3g). The police chief says he will be released if he joins in the efforts to repatriate the camp’s refugees who, according to Satgas, will only agree to return with João Baptista (RT, 21 and 25-9).

n) João Tavares accuses Câncio Carvalho of setting fire to the motorbikes (see 3g) with the intention of incriminating João Baptista, and asks the police to arrest Câncio for having insulted the Indonesian flag (RT, 22-9).  Câncio replies that he will declare war on Tavares if he continues to hinder the repatriation process (RT, 24-9).

o) Eurico Guterres, former Aitarak commander, tried to speak with Vice-president Hamzah Haz to inform him about pressure being brought to bear by the military and police to force people to return, and suggested the island of Wetar would be a suitable location for refugee resettlement (NTTX, 25-9). [Such an arrangement would allow an administration dominated by militia chiefs to be set up].

p) Bachtiar Chamsyah, Minister for Welfare [!] said the Government would take strong measures against “certain groups who want to hinder the refugees ’ return” (PK, 4-10). Police chief Gories Mere said: “Tell the refugees to return home, and please write in large print that Gories has spoken”. There have been threats to shoot to kill anyone preventing refugee repatriation (Tempo Magazine, 13-10).

5. The UN

a) A UN mission went to West Timor to assess security: since the killing in September 2000 of three UNHCR international staff, security there had been set at category 5. “In conclusion, although some progress has been made in disarming and demobilising the militia, ex-militia members ... continue to pose a significant threat to UN operations in West Timor, particularly in Belu District” where UNTAS has demonstrated its capacity to manipulate the large numbers of refugees ... and their vested interest in preventing the refugees from returning to East Timor ... The police are incapable of effectively mobilising and responding to emergency situations ... In the circumstances “it must be made perfectly clear to both the refugees and the Government of Indonesia that the focus of the UN agencies is resettlement and repatriation and not a return to large-scale assistance programmes”. For the UN to return, the Indonesian authorities would first have to honour its agreement with UNTAET, which includes a commitment to investigate the deaths of the UNHCR staff (UN interagency security, 14-7).

b) The UN will authorise the return of its agencies when Indonesia honours the agreements (Reuters UN, 3-8).

c) The Timorese NGO Forum says it has received reports that the UNHCR intends to close its centres at Baucau and Maliana on 30 September and to cease its refugee assistance by 31 October. The Forum asks for assistance to be continued at least until independence in 2002. Withdrawal now would be an indication that the situation of the refugees had been resolved or was irresolvable (NGO Forum, 8-9). The UNHCR has decided to stay until June 2002 (AFP, 30-10).

d) Leading UNHCR official, Jessen Petersen, went to Indonesia to discuss with the authorities the agency’s return to West Timor in the framework of the conditions identified in July by the UN Security mission. Piet Tallo and Willem da Costa announced that the UNHCR would return before the end of 2001 (JP, 14-9). Jessen Petersen noted “a fundamental policy change” and encouraging signs in repatriation, but also pointed out that the court of the 2nd instance had confirmed “ridiculously low sentences” for the killers of the UNHCR workers. “We can’t resume a regular presence without that Memorandum of Understanding”, said Jessen Petersen. (AFP and Reuters, 17-9).


1. International financial assistance for the refugees cannot be attributed on the basis of a registration exercise that the Indonesian authorities themselves admit was meaningless. However, even if the refugees were able to freely express whether they wished to stay in Indonesia or be repatriated, there would be no guarantee of their choice being respected. Who and where are the refugees who stated last June that they wanted to be repatriated?

2. There are many factors impacting on the returns: security conditions and socio-economic concerns (health, schools, employment) in East Timor, Indonesia’s payment of salaries and pensions to those who used to work in its administration in East Timor.

3. The most decisive of these factors is the refugees’ dependence on the camp ‘coordinators’. This dependence is rooted in the traditional leadership of the rural communities; it went to extreme limits with the creation of militias, and is now continued by the figure of the camp ‘coordinator’ – the main interlocutor of the Indonesian authorities and intermediary in humanitarian aid distribution. In such circumstances, international assistance only serves to perpetuate the situation. International agencies on the ground are the most appropriate response, but Indonesia is not implementing the measures that have to be taken to ensure their return, particularly in terms of bringing to justice the militiamen responsible for the violence.

Observatory for the monitoring of East Timor's transition process a programme by the 'Comissão para os Direitos do Povo Maubere'
Coordinator: Cláudia Santos 
Rua Pinheiro Chagas, 77 2ºE -  1069-069     Lisboa - Portugal
ph.: 351 1 317 28 60  -  fax: 351 1 317 28 70  -  e-mail:

Observatório Timor Leste  Updated Jan 25
Duas Organizações Não Governamentais portuguesas, a COMISSÃO PARA OS DIREITOS DO POVO MAUBERE (CDPM) e o grupo ecuménico A PAZ É POSSÍVEL EM TIMOR LESTE que, desde o início da década de oitenta, se solidarizam com a causa do Povo de Timor Leste, tomaram a decisão de criar o OBSERVATÓRIO TIMOR LESTE. A vocação do Observatório Timor Leste é, no quadro das recentes alterações do regime de Jacarta face a Timor Leste, o acompanhamento, a nível internacional, do processo negocial e, no interior do território, do inevitável período de transição que se anuncia.
correio electrónico:  URL:

East Timor Observatory  Updated Jan 25
ETO was set up by two Portuguese NGOs - the Commission for the Rights of the Maubere People (CDPM) and the ecumenical group Peace is Possible in East Timor,  which have been involved in East Timor solidarity work since the early eighties. The aim of the Observatory was to monitor East Timor's transition process, as well as the negotiating process and its repercussions at international level, and the developments in the situation inside the territory itself.
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Observatoire Timor-Oriental  Updated Jan 25
Deux Organisations Non Gouvernementales portugaises, la ‘Commission pour les Droits du Peuple Maubere’ et l’association oecuménique "La Paix est Possible au Timor Oriental", qui se solidarisent avec la cause du peuple du Timor Oriental depuis le début des années 80, ont pris la décision de créer un OBSERVATOIRE TIMOR ORIENTAL. La vocation de cet observatoire est d’accompagner le processus de transition du Timor Oriental, aussi bien le processus de négociation que ses répercussions au niveau international et l’évolution de la situation à l’intérieur du territoire.
courrier électronique:  URL:

See also:

BD: 'Refugees' & Missing Persons / 'Refugiados' e Desaparecido / 'Réfugiés' ou Déplacés / - A collection of recent information, reports, articles and news

BD: Pro-autonomy Movements / Pró autonomia Movimentos / Partai pendukung otonomi  - A collection of recent information, reports, articles and news

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