Subject: JP: More East Timor refugees prefer to stay in Indonesia

The Jakarta Post June 9, 2001

More East Timor refugees prefer to stay in Indonesia

KUPANG, East Nusa Tenggara (JP): The latest results from the registration of East Timorese refugees indicated on Friday that 92,476 out of 94,692 eligible voters wanted to remain in Indonesia.

The latest figures, made available at the registration organizing committee's media center, indicated that 763 of the refugees opted to abstain.

Officials at the media center said that the figures were not the final result as the Belu and Kupang regencies had yet to submit their final tallies.

"But the final result will most likely be the same," said one official who requested anonymity.

The organizing committee had apparently been frustrated at having to extend the registration period for a second time to include Friday.

The first extension, until Thursday, was made on the grounds that not all refugees had registered.

Registration Team secretary Usman Abubakar said that the organizing committee had consulted 12 foreign observers before deciding to extend the ballot.

"The number of refugees has swollen in each regency," Abubakar said. "Reports from the regencies say the number of refugees is 224,154, while the organizing committee's records only indicate 148,807."

Changes in the number of refugees and eligible voters made the committee struggle to provide more ballot papers.

The organizing committee had earlier kept 198,000 ballot papers, and due to the unexpected increase in voters, 45,154 extra ballot papers were required.

According to Abubakar, the committee had to copy the ballot papers and then ask the regents to sign and stamp them.

"The international observers and UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) have been notified about the additional ballot papers," he said.

The refugees live in 13 regencies and in the mayoralty of Kupang.

The registration, sponsored by the Indonesian government, is intended to be a preliminary step toward the regulated monitoring of the country's population and demographics.

All refugees, including former members of the Indonesian Military (then ABRI) and Police force, were given the opportunity to choose whether they wanted to stay in Indonesia or return to East Timor.

Those who opt to remain in Indonesia will receive aid from the government and be resettled in the future.

Unconfirmed reports said that the larger number of refugees was a result of non-refugee residents in the regencies joining the registration process to get obtain government aid.

Some have criticized the committee for extending the registration. Critics said that the extension was due to the committee's poor preparation.

However, the committee has boasted that the process was a success because it had been conducted peacefully, in contrast to many people's expectations of violence. (30/sur)

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