Thousands of refugees from the violence in East Timor have fled here to the western part of the island and come under the rule of the same pro-Indonesian militias that are rampaging through the territory the refugees just left.
At a refugee camp holding an estimated 8,000 people near the town of Kupang, militiamen uniformed in long-sleeved black shirts patrolled the compound. They have been preventing international organizations and journalists from entering the camp, or two others here, making it difficult to determine how the refugees are faring or to obtain first-hand accounts of the violence in East Timor.
Some of the few descriptions that have emerged portray frightening scenes of brutality.
"As we were getting on the ferry yesterday in Dili [East Timor's capital], four pro-independence persons tried to get on the boat," said a refugee who asked to remain unidentified. "The militiamen at the ferry stabbed each of them in the front, and then turned them around and stabbed them in the back and dumped their bodies in the sea."
"I had never seen someone killed before yesterday," the man added, speaking to an Indonesian interlocutor at a refugee camp here.
Indonesian reporters indicated that many of the refugees who have crossed into western Timor share the militias' opposition to East Timorese independence. They decided to leave East Timor fearing the loss of status after the territory's recent vote for independence, or to escape the general chaos there.
But there also are reports that truckloads of pro-independence East Timorese have been forced across the border as well. It is unclear if these refugees also are in the camps controlled by the militia groups.
The militias, with support from the Indonesian military, launched the current campaign of violence in East Timor after the announcement Saturday of results of a referendum in which nearly four-fifths of the voters cast ballots against mere autonomy within Indonesia and for complete independence.
The refugees have arrived in western Timor by truck, by ferry, or by air in drab Indonesian army transport planes that have been shuttling out of Dili. "There's nothing there now," said a taxi driver who fled Dili five days ago. "There's no food, no stores. It's like a dead town."
By today, about 68,000 refugees had poured into western Timor, according to I. Made Sutama, head of the Kupang office of UNICEF. They were being housed in three main camps, and shelters made of palm branches were being quickly erected.
Thousands more passed through western Timor--or were trying to--en route to Java, Indonesia's main island, or elsewhere in the country. A distraught woman with two infants waiting on the curb outside the airport said she wanted "to go anywhere."
The refugees are straining local and international aid efforts in western Timor. "We are worried that if the flow of refugees continues our capacity to handle them will be reached," Sutama said. "The big problem is drinking water."
That is an ominous sign for an area that seemed largely unaffected by the long political fevers of its neighbor at the eastern end of the island. As East Timorese guerrillas fought a bloody struggle against Indonesia's 1975 annexation, western Timor has remained a solid part of country. East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, has been treated by Jakarta as a province; western Timor is part of the province of East Nusa Tenggara, which also includes a number of neighboring islands.
Anti-independence forces, including most notably the militia units in East Timor, have tried to blame the United Nations, referendum observers and foreign journalists for their lopsided defeat at the polls. This whipped-up xenophobic sentiment has fed Indonesian nationalism.
A top official of the U.N. refugee agency left western Timor after his car was attacked two days ago. Several journalists also were attacked, and taxi drivers were warned not to try to take reporters to the refugee camps, or on the seven-hour drive to the East Timor border.
An Indonesian presidential candidate, Megawati Sukarnoputri, asked that foreigners not accompany her today as she toured a refugee camp, and she canceled a trip to the border with East Timor because, according to local officials of her party, it was "too dangerous." A UNICEF official has appealed to foreigners not to come to the refugee camps, for fear of provoking violence.
Special correspondent Ningrum Widyastuty contributed to this report.