Payback Time

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Twenty-year-old rosina Olaloco was killed when grenades exploded at the Maubusa market in East Timor, a stone's throw from Indonesian West Timor. At this cross-border bazaar, children wheel through the bustle like sparrows as veterans of the pro-Indonesian militia that razed the country two years ago mingle with farmers, stallholders and smugglers. Rosina was not the only victim of the May 29 attack; in their rage over a gambling debt, former members of the Dangi Dadaras Merah Putih militia killed four other people and wounded more than 40.

Despite the presence of United Nations peacekeepers in East Timor, menace and misery lurk just across the border. East Timorese refugees-mainly former militiamen and Indonesian soldiers and their families-yearn to return from their squalid camps in West Timor. But Indonesian authorities are already unable to cope with the crisis, and the pressure on East Timor will grow when the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees quits the island in December. Although the militias have disbanded, a small core of hardliners, scattered from West Timor to Jakarta, still harbor dreams of vengeance. "There are problems for years ahead," says Catholic Relief Services' Florentio Sarmento. And new sores open before the old ones can heal.

Of the 250,000 people herded from East Timor after its people voted for independence two years ago, about 80,000 are left in West Timorese camps. "They live in atrocious conditions," says Sarmento. Human waste fouls the sites; houses are a sad patchwork of scraps. Medicine ran out long ago. At Tuabukan, near the West Timorese capital of Kupang, and at Metomauk, 3.5 km from the border, refugees in mismatched Indonesian Army uniforms farm locals' land. But patience is fraying. "Last year we had land," says Zeraldo Mendoza at Labur camp, near the border town of Atambua. "But it was taken back."

The refugees want to leave, but many fear arrest in East Timor. Disinformation flourishes. According to church workers in camps around Betun, refugees are spreading rumors that Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri has met with militia leaders to discuss reintegrating East Timor. Former militia commander Joanico Cezario admits refugees are used to shore up a "bargaining position." In early April the flow of returning refugees stalled after automatic-weapons fire hit border posts manned by Fijian and Australian peacekeepers, and grenade attacks were reported in three East Timorese villages. "Militias still have the power and the influence," says Father Edi Mulyono, of the Jesuit Refugee Service. Major Rick Moor, of the 4th Royal Australian Regiment, a U.N. border force, says refugees claim soldiers demand $25 per person to leave; the refugees, he adds, "have no way of paying."

The militias' reach extends beyond the camps. In Dili's giddy bustle, ragged storekeepers in plywood shanties offer cheap Indonesian cigarettes smuggled in from West Timor, often with militia help. Lieut. Peter Ireland, who commands a U.N. reconnaissance platoon, says his teams spy on border markets. In West Timor, pro-integrationists have interests in shops, gambling, construction, and mechanical repairs. Behind the imposing Atambua compound of former militia commander-in-chief João Tavares, cheering punters bet avidly on cockfights.

Villagers from Kada, near the border town of Betun, claim that a bus driver working for militia leader Olivio Mendoza Moruk bashed two local boys last September. In response, angry villagers killed Mendoza. Blaming the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Moruk's confederates then descended on the unhcr compound in Atambua, butchering three workers; blood still stains the ransacked office. Igidio Manek, who seized a teenage girl at Suai as a war prize, continued his half-brother Olivio's businesses until he was arrested last month for corruption. "Militiamen are greedy criminals," says a senior Indonesian police officer.

Former senior militiamen now living in comfort in Jakarta or Kupang remain angry about losing East Timor. "We don't need support from Indonesia; we have the right to fight for our country," says East Timor's last governor, Abilio Soares. According to Indonesian police Brigadier-General Jaki Uly, the former militiamen still have guns. Some parade and drill with Indonesian civil defence units. "Refugees tell us of militia concentrations and training," says the U.N.'s Col. Rob Holt. Mario Vieira, spokesman for the pro-integration political group Uni Timor Aswain (untas), threatens economic turmoil for the new nation. "We will never give up," he says. Former commander-in-chief João Tavares believes last week's election has been a setback for peace. "Soon you will probably hear the conflict is going on again," he says. "There will never be an end. The new East Timor is creating a formula for future war." Those fighting words are matched by a spirit of vengeance in East Timor. Independence figure Manuel Carrascalao, whose son died in a militia attack, says, "My son's friends look forward to catching up with his killers."

Former militia company commanders are suspected of orchestrating border incursions. "They have strong feelings and minds about their homeland," says Eurico Guterres of these men, some his subordinates in the Aitarak militia. The ex-militiamen "feel abandoned," says untas spokesman Vieira. "But they do these things as individuals, not as an organization." But former commander Nemecio de Carvalho claims that Guterres and João Tavares are keeping the hardliners active, ordering and funding "clandestine activities, with support from the (Indonesian) military and retired generals." Both men deny involvement.

Fearing prosecution if they return to East Timor, many former militia commanders are pressuring their followers to remain in the west until an amnesty agreement is reached. Some say likely East Timorese president Xanana Gusmão has already promised such a deal. "Xanana told us many times that if he is president we will have amnesty," says untas spokesman Vieira. João Tavares says an amnesty is vital. "If this is not accepted, then the future will be one of prolonged conflict," he warns.

East Timorese Foreign Minister José Ramos Horta also would like to see "a general amnesty on the day of independence, preceded by a truth and reconciliation process. The real culprits of the crimes against East Timor," he adds, "are the Indonesian government and (Army) officers who are safe in Jakarta. While they escape justice, are we going to try our own people, the small fish?" Horta believes the new Parliament will heed Gusmão's advice on amnesty and that national consensus is possible.

Yet many people haunted by the killings that followed the 1999 independence vote are not ready to forgive. "The people do not want amnesty for the criminals," says Manuel Carrascalão. "The idea must be taken back." His country is now free to chart its own destiny. But it will not move far forward without laying to rest the troubles of the past.