Subject: Many East Timorese refugees do not want to return, priest says

Many East Timorese refugees do not want to return, priest says

SYDNEY, Jan 4 (AFP) - Thousands of East Timorese refugees in camps in West Timor may decide not to return home because of links to Indonesia or to the pro-Jakarta militia, a Catholic refugee service said Thursday.

Frank Brennan, an Australian priest who heads the Jesuit Refugee Service, said many of the East Timorese who fled in September 1999 during the militia rampage that followed East Timor's vote for independence may not want to go back.

More than 100,000 East Timor refugees are still estimated to be in camps in West Timor.

"The UNHCR special envoy recently stated to the Jesuit Refugee Service that anything up to 19,000 of the residents in these camps are members of families which have at least one member who is in receipt of an Indonesian government pension or salary," Brennan told ABC radio.

"So obviously that is one group which may be attracted to the idea of staying in the camps until they see how the situation in East Timor unfolds."

Others, he said, were militia members or families of the militia for whom the option of returning to East Timor was unattractive.

"But you also have a third group who would be those that are our greatest concern, that is those who in a sense are hostage to those who are running the camps with militia backing."

Tensions between the East Timor refugees and local residents flared again at the weekend when the refugees, many from Tuapukan camp in Kupang, the main city in West Timor, attacked Poto resettlement camp 80 kilometres (50 miles) east of Kupang.

About 100 houses, mostly belonging to local residents, were reportedly looted and burned.

Brennan said complaints about food distribution by the Indonesian government lay at the heart of the tension.

"The complaint of some of the young refugees has been that the distribution is unfair where 60 percent is said to be going to the local population and only 40 percent to the refugees," he said.

"This then led to a conflict which escalated when something like six truckloads of young refugees became embroiled in a fight and the burning of some houses."

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