Subject: JP: East Timorese to lose refugee status by end of 2002

The Jakarta Post July 27, 2002

East Timorese to lose refugee status by end of 2002

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The Indonesian government has again extended the deadline for the repatriation of East Timorese refugees living in squalid camps in West Timor.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda said Friday the refugees would lose their refugee status by Dec. 31, 2002 -- the third such deadline.

Briefing the press after accompanying President Megawati Soekarnoputri to a meeting with United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNMISET) chief Kamalesh Sharma, Hassan said East Timorese refugees had to decide before the deadline whether they wanted to stay in Indonesia or return to East Timor.

"The UN has also decided that by Dec. 31 the refugee status of East Timorese in West Timor will be withdrawn," Hassan said.

According to East Nusa Tenggara Governor Piet A. Tallo, 50,000 East Timorese refugees were still living in makeshift camps in Atambua and Kupang regencies, even though the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) earlier put the figure at 35,000 people.

As many as 250,000 East Timorese fled to West Timor in September 1999 after thousands of military-backed militia members went on a bloody rampage to protest the results of a United Nations-organized referendum in which East Timorese overwhelmingly voted to break away from Indonesia.

The rampage claimed the lives of an estimated 1000 people and destroyed almost 80 percent of the infrastructure in the former Portuguese colony.

Minister Hassan also said Friday that beginning Sept. 1 Indonesia would no longer be involved in the repatriation of East Timorese refugees, leaving UNHCR as the only agency responsible for their return to East Timor.

Hassan stressed that the two dates were needed to force the refugees to decide whether to stay in Indonesia or to return to East Timor.

"We have agreed that we are going to settle all East Timor refugees by the end of the year," the minister said.

In the meeting with President Megawati, Sharma urged both Indonesia and East Timor to immediately resolve lingering problems between the two countries.

Sharma said the Indonesia-East Timor joint commission should immediately solve the issues through discussion.

"We understand that the Indonesian government is now waiting for a response from the East Timor government as they are yet to appoint representatives to the commission," Sharma said.

Hassan said the joint commission would hold its first meeting either in September or October.

Meanwhile, Antara reported from Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara that some 250 East Timorese refugees were leaving for Dili on Friday, and another 2,000 people were scheduled to return in early August.

It is still uncertain, however, if makeshift refugee camps in West Timor would be really closed down by December 2002.

The government had made several deadlines before but extended them as the refugees have failed to make up their minds as to whether to stay in Indonesia or to return to their ancestral land.

Last year, the government announced that the camps would be closed in January 2002, but delayed the closure till June. Now, it has set the deadline at Dec. 31.

Hassan also revealed that the government and UN had set up a US$6 million trust fund to give one-time payments to former Indonesian civil servants, security officers and police personnel.

However the amount was still far away from the US$22 million needed to pay pension funds to thousands of former Indonesian civil servants.

"UNMISET will further try to persuade donor agencies to increase the contribution," Hassan said.


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