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COVER STORY: SEPTEMBER 20, 1999 VOL. 154 NO. 11

Meanwhile in West Timor, There's No Escape from Fear
By ZAMIRA LOEBIS Noelbaki

I arrived at the Noelbaki refugee camp in West Timor posing as a local member of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP). It was the only way I could get past the militia members, who had come over with the refugees and had family members in the camp. The militia were now running the camp, and they were hostile to journalists. The party's leader, Megawati Sukarnoputri, had visited here hours before to check on the 2,600 refugees packed into eight large tents in the middle of a dry, dust-filled bus terminal. One of the militiamen pulled me aside and demanded to see my identity card. Just as my trembling hand went into my handbag, the local PDIP supporter accompanying me said, "She's with PDIP," and I was allowed to go in and have a look.

    ALSO IN TIME
Island of Death
Thugs supported by the Indonesian military lay waste to East Timor--killing hundreds, rocking the government in Jakarta and ruining the country's reputation in the eyes of the world

Hideout
A view from inside the U.N. compound

Economy
Meet the world's next basket case

No Refuge
There's no escape from fear in West Timor

  RELATED STORIES
CNN
Plan for East Timor Peacekeeping Mission Hits Snag
Indonesian military objects to Australian participation

ASIAWEEK
East Timor's Agony
The former Portuguese colony descends into anarchy as pro-Indonesia militias go on a campaign of violence to thwart independence

One Reporter's Notebook
How journalists came under the gun too

  MESSAGE BOARD
Indonesia and East Timor

  QUICK VOTE
Should Indonesian President B.J. Habibie resign?

No, he needs to stay in place and do more to resolve the East Timor crisis
Yes, he should quit before he is deposed
No, if he resigns, the Indonesian military could seize control
View Results
A truck had just pulled in with the latest load of women and children to make the four-day boat trip from East Timor. They were escorted into the camp by police and members of the Besi Merah Putih (Red and White Iron) militia, who proceeded to check their IDs. Those suspected of supporting independence for East Timor were sent to a foul-smelling area of the camp filled with people coughing and suffering from diarrhea. The day before, four young men suspected of being pro-independence were beaten by militiamen before being taken away by police to an uncertain fate.

Noelbaki is 100 m long and 150 m wide. Two dozen militiamen gather each morning for a military-like briefing before going on patrol, armed with daggers and thick iron bars. The police and the military don't try to stop the men in red-and-white headbands from acting like prison guards, checking on the refugees and harassing the already traumatized newcomers. Having successfully driven tens of thousands of East Timorese from their homes, the militias now seem intent on political cleansing. Tale after tale from terrified refugees reveal an attempt to dilute and divide the population of East Timor.

Isabella hasn't heard from her husband since he fled to the mountains years ago to join the rebels fighting a guerrilla war against Indonesia. She recounts how she and her neighbors were forced to leave their homes by men from the Besi Merah Putih a day after the referendum. "They were shooting into our houses at random and then setting them on fire," she recalls. "They even shot my chickens."

My escort interrupted her and whisked me to the PDIP post, the safest place in Noelbaki, while the militia began yet another sweep of the camp to check IDs. The relentless searches for independence supporters are breeding paranoia and fear. The day before, a newly arrived refugee snatched a gun from a policeman and started firing at random. He wounded one person before being shot dead by police.

The refugees say they have no idea how long they will be here or where they will be shipped next, but few expect to move before legislators in Jakarta next month ratify the independence vote. By then, the rainy season will be starting, and Noelbaki will become a pool of mud, bringing more suffering to the already miserable refugees.

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