Subject: Indonesia to halt humanitarian aid to East Timor refugees

Indonesia to halt humanitarian aid to East Timor refugees

JAKARTA, Oct 28 (AFP) - The Indonesian government has decided to halt humanitarian assitance to East Timorese refugees in West Timor at the end of the year, a senior minister said in remarks published Sunday.

Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Yusuf Kalla said that from December 31 the government will only provide capital loans to refugees to start up businesses, the Kompas daily said.

The loans will have to be paid back by the refugees, who have been in Indonesian West Timor since fleeing post-ballot violence in East Timor in 1999, he added.

"The internationally recognized period (for assistance) is only two years. The East Timorese refugees have been here for over two years and therefore we will halt the assistance packages," Kalla said in Kupang, the main city in West Timor.

The Indonesian government has provided rice and small sums of money to East Timorese refugees.

Kalla said East Timorese refugees still on Indonesian territory now faced two options -- to take part in a government resettlement scheme within Indonesia or to return to East Timor.

An estimated quarter of a million people fled or were forced into West Timor in the wake of East Timor's overwhelming vote for independence on August 30, 1999, after 24 years of enforced Indonesian rule.

Local pro-Jakarta militias, backed by the Indonesian military, unleashed a wave of killing and destruction in response to the vote.

West Timor still has an estimated 80,000 East Timorese refugees living in squalid camps since they fled their homes to escape the violent militia campaign.

The UNHCR and other international relief agencies pulled out of West Timor after three foreign UNHCR staff were murdered by a mob in September last year.

The cash-strapped Indonesian government has been keen to get the refugees repatriated and close down the camps as soon as possible.

But Kalla said there had been no intimidation of refugees or efforts to make them return home. "There is no intimidation or terror actions to force refugees to return home," he said

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