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A Puerto Rican Among Three U.N. Slain Workers In West Timor
September 7, 2000
UNITED NATIONS (AP) - Six hours before he and two colleagues were murdered in West Timor, an American relief worker e-mailed a U.N. security official. A mob was en route to destroy the compound, he said.
"We sit here like bait, unarmed," he wrote.
The message was sent by Carlos Caceres of Puerto Rico, one of three employees of the U.N. refugee agency who were mutilated and burned in Wednesday's onslaught by a mob of militiamen opposed to independence for East Timor. West Timor remains under Indonesian rule.
"These guys act without thinking and can kill a human being as easily (and painlessly) as I kill mosquitos in my room," wrote Caceres.
U.N. officials said Caceres sent the message to a friend at a security office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Skopje, Macedonia, which was assigned to help coordinate safety measures for the faraway UNHCR workers in the West Timor town of Atambua.
A Security Council statement said the UNHCR had received advance warning of possible trouble and was assured by the Indonesian security forces that agency staff would be protected.
"I was in the office when the news came out that a wave of violence would soon pound Atambua," wrote Caceres. "We sent most of the staff home. I just heard someone on the radio saying that they are praying for us..."
"You should see this office," Caceres continued. "Plywood on the windows, staff peering out through the openings in the curtains hastily installed a few minutes ago. We are waiting for the enemy."
Caceres added that he was due to start a three-week trip on Thursday - "I just hope I will be able to leave tomorrow."
Despite his fears, Caceres told his friend he would keep working.
"As wait for the militia to do their business, I will draft the agenda for tomorrow's meeting," he wrote.
According to information provided to the Security Council, militiamen armed with homemade and semiautomatic weapons overran the UNHCR compound in Atambua, chasing away nine local policemen on guard.
"Most UNHCR staff fled over a rear wall," a U.N. statement said. "However, three of them were apparently unable to do so."
Robin Groves, a spokeswoman for the UNHCR, said Caceres, 33, attended the University of Florida and later received a law degree from Cornell. He had worked with the UNHCR since 1987.
His father, Gregorio Caceres of Jacksonville, Fla., said Caceres had been in Prague for the United Nations and then in Moscow for two years before being posted in Indonesia.
Said his sister, Elba Caceres of Miami: "I don't know what made him decide that he so wanted to help other help that he traveled thousands and thousands of miles to help strangers."
She said her brother was bedridden with dengue fever just last week, but persisted with his efforts for refugees.
"He would evacuate thousands of refugees from the militia, and the refugees would look at him as God because he was helping them. He gave up his life to help these people."
The Security Council discussed the attack in an urgent session Wednesday afternoon, then issued a statement expressing condolences and condemning "this outrageous and contemptible act."
"As a result, the essential international assistance to an estimated 100,000 East Timorese refugees has been suspended, putting that vulnerable population at risk," the council statement said.
The council urged Indonesia to end militia violence, ensure security at refugee camps and work with international agencies to ensure that refugees can return home.
Groves said Caceres' e-mail was read aloud to the Security Council by Sadako Ogata, the UNHCR's head.
"They were all profoundly moved," Groves said. "You could see the reaction was very intense."