Subject: AFP: Jakarta told to issue citizenship to Timor refugees opting to stay

Source: Agence France-Presse (AFP) Date: 4 Jun 2002 Jakarta told to issue citizenship to Timor refugees opting to stay

JAKARTA, June 4 (AFP) - A court on Tuesday ordered the Indonesian government to grant citizenship to East Timorese refugees who choose to stay in the country rather than return home to the newly independent nation.

The Central Jakarta district court ruled that the government "is under an obligation to provide the refugees with their rights as any other citizen, to accord them legal protection and legal certainty on their residential status."

The ruling followed a class action suit filed by feared former East Timorese militia leader Eurico Guterres and another East Timorese, A.B. Nicolai, purportedly on behalf of tens of thousands of East Timorese refugees still in Indonesia.

The plaintiffs demanded that the court order the government to give refugees the option of repatriation or of staying in Indonesia as citizens.

"Their status has remained vague. The government halted assistance in January and they have since remained confused, not being Indonesian citizens but not being citizens of East Timor either," Guterres told reporters.

However his lawyer Sumohadi Sumomulyono said a national assembly decree already provides that the government issue citizenship documents for those who have opted to stay.

"But the decree does not have power of execution, a court verdict has," the lawyer said, adding that the lawsuit's aim was to get the government to act quickly.

The United Nations estimates that 52,000 refugees remain in Indonesian West Timor, out of an original quarter-million or more who were forced or fled across the border in the violent aftermath of East Timor's August 1999 vote for independence from Indonesia.

Military-backed East Timorese militiamen waged a campaign of intimidation before the vote and a bloody "scorched earth" campaign afterwards.

The cash-strapped Indonesian government has been keen to resettle the remaining refugees. It halted assistance to them to encourage them to take a decision -- either to leave or to stay as Indonesians.

Many of those who remain in the camps have links to the former Indonesian administration in East Timor. UN officials have said that many fear the loss of pension rights if they return.

Government lawyer Esther Daturate asked for two weeks to decide whether to appeal.

Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975 and the following year declared the territory its 27th province.


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