return to East Timor
Photographs and text
by Jean-Marc Giboux.
Left; Maliana: the end of a nightmare. Refugees returning home after months living under the guns of the Pro-Indonesian militias in the camps of West Timor. Close to a quarter of the population is still missing.

Below; a child refugee waits at the border crossing.
After the overwhelming victory of the independence vote in the August 30th East Timor referendum, Indonesian armed forces and their puppet militias unleashed a campaign of killing and destruction that lasted until the arrival of the INTERFET peacekeepers, 4 weeks later. During the rampage, there was looting and burning across the whole country, cattle were shot dead in the fields and water wells were soiled with rotting cadavers and human faeces.

One quarter of the population was forcibly relocated to refugee camps run by the militias in West Timor, the Indonesian side of the island . It seems like the aim of the campaign of violence was to inflict as much pain as possible on the East Timorese people for their decision to become independent from Jakarta, as a warning perhaps to those with similar aspirations in other parts of the fractured Indonesian archipelago.
Today East Timor has hardly started the process of recovery. The soldiers of INTERFET have restored a sense of security in most of the territory and the United Nations has set up food and reconstruction programs, but as of November 1999, close to a quarter of the population was still unaccounted for, held by their tormentors in West Timor and those who have returned are becoming increasingly frustrated at the slow pace of reconstruction.

Access to the "missing" refugees is restricted by the Indonesian army, even for the UN and other aid agencies. Only a very few have managed to leave the camps and return home to the East ... They have all been looted on the way, robbed of their valuables and been forced to pay extortion prices for their freedom. They return with bleak reports of murder, abuse, and rape in the camps controlled by the militias.

Xanana Gusmao, the exiled leader of the East Timorese resistance movement, has returned, the Falintil guerillas have put down their weapons, and Archbishop Belo is conducting mass in Dili again. Still every day people gather at the border crossing, the airports and harbours in a desperate search for their missing relatives amongst the arriving refugees who trickle out of the West Timor camps.

© Jean-Marc Giboux