Subject: RT: E. Timor refugees afraid to choose to go home

E. Timor refugees seen afraid to choose to go home

By Irwin Arieff

UNITED NATIONS, June 7 (Reuters) - East Timorese refugees are being threatened and intimidated from returning home by militia who forced them into squalid camps in Indonesian West Timor two years ago, an aid worker charged on Thursday.

"The civilian refugees are threatened with murder or kidnapping if they choose repatriation," said Winston Neil Rondo, an Indonesian who leads the Center for Internally Displaced People's Services in West Timor.

Pro-Indonesian militia commanders living in the same camps, still angry over East Timor's lopsided August 1999 vote for independence from Jakarta, "will use any means including intimidation and violence to achieve their ends," said Rondo, who has worked in the camps since mid-1999.

Refugees also feared losing their food aid, which the hard-pressed Indonesian authorities had been slow to deliver, Rondo told a news conference.

The militia went on a rampage after the U.N.-organized 1999 ballot, burning, looting and raping. They herded tens of thousands of East Timorese over the border to West Timor.

Indonesian authorities this week registered East Timorese refugees in the camps, asking them whether they wanted to return home or resettle in West Timor.

The registration is in advance of Aug. 30 elections for a new governing assembly before the territory, now under U.N. administration, becomes independent next year.

Rondo said registration irregularities went largely undetected because there were only 12 international observers monitoring 507 registration sites. He urged the United Nations to reject the results.

The registration process was completed late on Thursday, but Indonesian officials said it could take up to 14 days to tally the preferences set out in some 130,000 registration forms.

But they said a partial count of some 42,000 refugees polled showed that 38,000 wanted to remain in West Timor.

There was no explanation for the discrepancy. Indonesia counts some 130,000 refugees registered, compared with U.N. estimates of 80,000 to 100,000 people in the camps.

Rondo said the refugees suffered from a lack of food, drinking water and health care. Three to five a day died in the camps, most from malaria, diarrhea, respiratory infections and childbirth complications.

He estimated that 60 to 70 percent of the refugees actually wanted to go home to East Timor.

"But with the intimidation and the undemocratic process, I don't think this is going to happen," he said.

"Because of this climate of fear, the refugees have no other choice but to be resettled in Indonesia. There may be a small number who choose to be repatriated, but the risks they are taking would be too great," Rondo said. 

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