Subject: SMH: East Timor refugees cleared to return

Sydney Morning Herald November 11, 2000

Refugees cleared to return

By MARK TODD, Herald Correspondent in Dili

Indonesia says a large number of East Timor refugees will be repatriated soon from squalid militia-controlled camps in West Timor, but the timing of the announcement comes days before a visit to the violence-prone border region by a high-level mission from the United Nations Security Council.

Mr Peter Kessler, the Dili-based spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said yesterday that Indonesian authorities had informed the UN refugee agency this week that 130 refugees had been cleared to return home on Monday.

In addition, an unspecified large number of refugees would also be allowed to repatriate in the near future, Mr Kessler said.

Diplomats and analysts in Dili said the Indonesian assurances to the UNHCR raised disturbing questions about who is controlling the refugees, long thought to be virtual hostages of militia gangs.

"They [Indonesians] are shooting for 130 refugees on Monday," Mr Kessler said. "We expect 75 on Saturday. Clearly the Indonesians have been organising people to come back in bigger groups, coincidentally at the same time the Security Council is in the country."

The UNHCR estimates at least 125,000 East Timorese refugees are living in West Timor.

A 21-strong UN mission arrives in Dili today for a week-long visit to report on Indonesian compliance with an agreement to disarm militia groups based in West Timor, and on efforts by Jakarta to arrest those responsible for the September 6 murders of three UNHCR staff.

The UN group comprises ambassadors from seven countries, including the United States and Britain.

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