Subject: JP: E. Timorese refugees given new deadline to go home

The Jakarta Post June 5, 2002

E. Timorese refugees given new deadline to go home

Yemris Fointuna, The Jakarta Post, Kupang

The government has given until Aug. 31 for East Timorese refugees to join government-sponsored repatriation programs, an official says.

Citing a letter issued in May by Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Jusuf Kalla, East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) Social Affairs Bureau director Stanis Tefa told The Jakarta Post here on Tuesday that the government would no longer organize repatriation programs for East Timorese refugees after Sept. 1, 2002.

"The government will stop the repatriation programs for East Timorese refugees on Aug. 31. We would therefore urge them to make up their minds now," Stanis said.

Close to 250,000 East Timorese fled to West Timor in September 1999 as military-backed militias went on a bloody rampage after the population of Indonesia's then 27th province voted overwhelmingly to break away from the country in a United Nations-organized referendum in August 1999.

Data provided by the NTT administration shows that between 30,000 and 40,000 East Timorese refugees are still living in makeshift refugee camps in West Timor and other parts of the country.

In a letter addressed to NTT Governor Piet Tallo in May, Minister Jusuf emphasized that refugees wanting to return to East Timor after Aug. 31 would have to shoulder all the expenses involved by themselves.

Since June 1, 2001, the government has been giving an allowance of Rp 750,000 to each East Timorese refugee returning to East Timor.

"Both the repatriation program and the allowances will be halted on Sept. 1," Stanis said.

He also said that at least 33,000 East Timorese refugees, consisting of 10,000 families, had returned to East Timor since September 2001. Of these, 19,000 came from Belu regency, and 4,000 from Kupang regency. The rest came from Alor and Flores islands, also in NTT.

The NTT administration said in May that it would extend the repatriation program until Nov. 20, 2002, to allow more refugees to return home. Refugees declining to return home would be presumed to be Indonesia citizens and would be asked to join resettlement programs to move them to other provinces.

East Timor achieved full independence on May 20, 2002, after more than four hundred years of foreign rule, including 32 months under the United Nations.

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