Subject: Refugees half the number claimed by Indonesia: Horta

Refugees half the number claimed by Indonesia: Horta

DILI, East Timor, Nov 13 (AFP) - Nobel peace laureate Jose Ramos Horta has said the number of East Timorese refugees still in Indonesian-ruled West Timor is only half the widely accepted figure of 130,000.

"The actual figure of the refugees we believe is no more than 60,000," Horta, who is foreign minister in the territory's transitional government, told journalists here late Sunday.

An official in West Timor's provincial government told AFP in September there were officially just over 129,000 refugees listed in camps in West Timor and on neighbouring Flores island.

Horta said that after long being sceptical of that figure, there was now "ample evidence" to prove his view that it was inflated.

"For instance, the East Timorese population prior to last year's referendum was 840,000, that includes 100,000 Indonesians," he said after talks with a visiting UN Security Council delegation.

"If you take out 100,000 there are a bit over 700,000 East Timorese and with a population growth of just over three percent we should have a bit over 800,000.

"Well right now, based on UN data, UNICEF and CNRT (United Nations Children's Fund and the National Council of East Timorese Resistance) we have almost that figure already.

"So it matches with our own assessment that only 60-to-70,000 refugees are in West Timor," Horta said.

West Timor's governor, Piet Tallo, had made a statement on Saturday that the actual number of refugees there was around 63,000, Horta added.

A team of seven UN Security Council envoys, on a six day visit to East Timor and Indonesia, including Indonesian-controlled West Timor, have named the resolution of the refugee problem as their top priority.

Thousands of East Timorese were forced over the border into the Indonesian half of Timor island during a wave of violence and destruction by Jakarta-backed anti-independence militia in the month following the territory's vote for independence last year.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates about 180,000 have since returned home.

Returnees say the camps in West Timor are squalid and controlled by intimidating militiamen, UNHCR officials in Dili have said.

Horta asked the UN delegation to convey the urgency of resolving the refugee issue to Indonesian authorities, whom they are scheduled to meet in Jakarta on Thursday and Friday.

"We hope the Security Council will encourage them to take additional steps to once and for all resolve the problem of the militias and our refugees in West Timor," Horta told reporters.

Indonesia's coordinating security, social and political affairs minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has pledged that the process of re-registering the refugees would be under way by the time the Security Council team visits.

A 47-member Indonesian taskforce has been in the province since mid-October to prepare for refugee registration -- in which they people in the camps opt either to return home or remain in Indonesia.

The UN delegation will travel to the provincial capital Kupang on Tuesday and the border town of Atambua on Wednesday.

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