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As U.N. Celebrates World Refugee Day, Indonesia Continues To Hold Tens Of Thousands Of East Timorese As Virtual Hostages, Two Years After They Were Driven From Their Homes
Today at the Statue of Liberty UN diplomats and U.S. officials will attend a laser light show to honor the first World Refugee Day - and to call attention to the plight of more than 20 million refugees around the world. The location is telling, since UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has repeatedly criticized the U.S and European countries for failing to protect refugees or provide adequate funding for UN refugee assistance.
If Western officials wanted a truer picture of the world refugee situation, and their own role in exacerbating this crisis, they might go to Indonesian West Timor, where they could more appropriately celebrate world hostage day. There, Indonesia continues to hold tens of thousands of East Timorese refugees as virtual hostages nearly two years after they voted overwhelmingly for independence.
They are among the more than 300,000 Timorese driven from their homes when the U.S.-backed Indonesian military and its militias burnt East Timor to the ground in September 1999. The UN estimates that at least 80,000 East Timorese remain in what are referred to as refugee camps.
Indonesia recently conducted a registration of the East Timorese, in theory to ask them if they wanted to stay in West Timor or return to their homes. Indonesia brought in more than 4,500 troops to oversee the operation and denied journalists and aid workers access to many of the refugees. They claim 98% of the Timorese want to remain in Indonesia.
Human rights groups denounced the so-called registration as a sham, pointing to the systematic campaign of violence, intimidation and dis-information directed at the Timorese and the fact that 80? of them voted for independence two years ago.
The ongoing refugee crisis is a glaring reminder of the international community's inability or unwillingness to demand justice for the people of East Timor. Not a single high ranking Indonesian official has ever been held responsible for the more than 25 years of killing, torture, and destruction in East Timor. The East Timorese and human rights groups around the world have called for an international war crimes tribunal, but Indonesia's powerful allies, especially the United States, have thus far done little to bring about such a tribunal.
* WINSTON NEIL RONDO, General Secretary of the Center for Internally Displaced People's Services in Kupang, West Timor. Winston has been working in West Timor's refugee camps since 1999.
* MATTHEW JARDINE, writer and activist who has been to East Timor numerous times and written extensively about immigration and human rights.
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