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Radio Woos Pro-Jakarta Militias Back To East Timor

Pacific Media Watch:

Pasifik Nius:

A programme which talks about reconciliation has persuaded '10 militia and dozens of refugees' that they will be accepted back


FORMER pro-Jakarta militias from West Timor are being enticed to return to East Timor after hearing a programme from a newly-opened East Timorese radio station which talks about reconciliation between former enemies -- pro-integration militias and pro-independence activists.

Roberto Soares Cabral, the radio host, says that his programme has been invaluable in convincing former pro-Jakarta militias that independence supporters would accept the return of the militias to East Timor.

His guests on the "Healing through Memory" programme are East Timorese such as an independence activist who told harrowing tales of being tortured and narrowly escaping death at the hands of militia, but who also talked about understanding his torturer's behaviour.

The programme's open discussion by victims about how militias had been forced by militia leaders or the Indonesian military to commit violent acts prompted the return of at least 10 militia and dozens of refugees, says Mr Cabral.

"They came into the Caritas aid agency and thanked me personally," he said, describing the surprise arrival of militias who had travelled from Alieu, Maliana and Suai to thank him.

Until late last year, most militia members, many of whom were forced to join the militia groups, were still living in refugee camps in West Timor for fear of revenge attacks if they returned to East Timor.

And until recently, their fears were well grounded as former pro-integration supporters were often attacked once they returned to their villages.

Mr Cabral said that with only a handful of counsellors, most of Timor's infrastructure destroyed, no newspapers and no television, Radio Kamanek was the most effective way to initiate reconciliation among the majority of the population even in remote parts of East Timor.

On the other side of the border, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is also using radio and videos to convince 139,000 refugees in West Timor that it is safe to return to East Timor.

Around 250,000 people were forcibly moved from East Timor into West Timor by the Indonesian army and militias after the majority of the population voted in favour of independence last August.

Mr Alphonse Munyaneza, UNHCR's Communications Manager in Kupang said that their daily radio programmes broadcasting details about whether schools are running in a particular town, whether reconstruction has begun and whether there have been any outbreaks of violence has encouraged many refugees, including militia members, to return home.

He added the programmes were quite successful in combating the militia propaganda campaigns about ongoing violence and lack of food in East Timor.

Many of the returning refugees said they had waited in West Timor until recently because of "security concerns and the No 2 reason was social and economic concerns", he said.

While the UNHCR's information campaign in the border regions of Atambua has increased the number of refugees returning, Mr Munyaneza said the movement of refugees from the West Timor capital of Kupang had slowed down recently.

The UNHCR still has difficulties getting information to Kupang's most notorious camp, Tuapukan, because it was under the control of the militias, he added.


PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government organisation comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region. Launched in October 1996, it has links with the Journalism Program at the University of the South Pacific, Bushfire Media, the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, and Pactok Communications, in Sydney and Port Moresby.

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