Subject: Aid agency hands tied over repatriations from West Timor

Aid agency hands tied over repatriations from West Timor

JAKARTA, Oct 13 (AFP) - An aid agency official said Friday his organisation had turned down an Indonesian plea to help repatriate 43 East Timorese families from West Timor because of security problems.

Major General Kiki Syahnakrie, the Indonesian military commander overseeing West Timor, asked representatives from the International Organisation for Migration for help in shipping 620 refugees back to East Timor next week at a meeting in Bali on Thursday.

"We reiterated to them again that this particular repatriation, we can't do it in isolation, unless the UN and UNTAET agree," IOM spokesman Chris Lom told AFP.

"It seems the only way they're going to do that is when the phase five security alert is lifted," Lom added, referring to United Nations security restrictions imposed on West Timor since the killing of three UN staff in East Timor by militia mobs on September 6.

All foreign and most local aid workers were evacuated from the Indonesian half of Timor island in the two days following the killing.

Some local aid staff stayed behind and some have since returned, but no foreign aid workers have gone back to West Timor due to high security concerns.

The aid workers were mostly assisting an estimated 130,000 East Timorese refugees stranded in squalid camps in West Timor since they were forced out of their homeland by pro-Jakarta militias in the wake of the UN-held autonomy ballot.

The militias unleashed a wave of killing and arson after the half-island territory voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia on August 30, 1999.

Syahnakrie invited the IOM and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to a routine meeting Thursday with the commander of UN peacekeepers in East Timor, to discuss his proposal.

The IOM's regional representative, Mark Getschell, and two local staff attended but the UNHCR turned down the invitation.

The agency's Jakarta office said it declined becasue its two senior staff were out of the country, and they only received a verbal invitation.

Lom said all sides at the meeting reiterated their positions.

"Absolutely nothing came out of it apart from the the fact that they know we can't repatriate unless security improves," Lom said. "So it's a stalemate."

Lom said any bid to create a security situation conducive to registering and repatriating the refugees in West Timor "just hasn't really gone forward."

"We want to repatriate refugees but we also appreciate that it can't be done unless there's a real improvement in the security situation," Lom said.

Indonesia has been moving to accelerate a settlement of the 13-month old refugee problem in recent days.

On Friday it dispatched a 47-member team of ministry officials, police and military officers to West Timor to make arrangements for the registration process.

In New York Indonesian Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab invited the Security Council to send a delegation to the region in November to assess the situation for themselves.

Indonesian police also announced the arrest of a seventh suspect for the murders of three UN relief workers in West Timor last month.

The moves came ahead of Tuesday's opening of the annual meeting of the country's main donor group, the World Bank-chaired Consultative Group on Indonesia (CGI) in Tokyo.


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