Subject: Australian government criticized for sending 42 East Timorese home

Also - Dept refuses E Timorese protection visas

Australian government criticized for sending 42 East Timorese home ( 4:11 p.m.)

2006/9/9 CANBERRA, Australia (AP)

Lawmakers criticized the government Saturday for forcing 42 East Timorese who fled violence in the capital Dili in May to return to their homeland.

The 42 men, women and children were told Friday that they have until midnight Monday to go home, an Immigration Department spokeswoman said Saturday.

All of them, currently living in the Australian cities of Melbourne and Darwin, had made failed appeals to Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone for extensions of their humanitarian visas.

Paul Henderson, a Darwin-based minister of the Northern Territory Government, criticized the federal government for ordering the East Timorese out the day after announcing Thursday that an extra 120 Australian soldiers were to be sent to Dili because of escalating tensions.

"One arm of government is saying things aren't too good in East Timor and we need to send more troops over there and another arm of government is saying it's safe for these 14 to go home," Henderson told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio, referring to the 14 East Timorese who are residing in his home town.

The group was among 54 East Timorese rescued from Dili in May when Australia sent a battalion of troops to quell violence that killed at least 30 people and drove 150,000 from their homes.

The violence had snowballed from clashes between government security forces and soldiers dismissed in March by former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri.

A dozen of the 54 who were initially given three-month Australian humanitarian visas had already returned to their homes voluntarily, the immigration spokeswoman said on condition of anonymity, citing department policy.

The remainder were given two-week extensions on Aug. 24, the spokeswoman said.

She declined to detail why the East Timorese were brought to Australia, citing privacy considerations.

"Because of their personal circumstances, they were particularly vulnerable given the political and security situation in Dili then," the spokeswoman said.

Vanstone had decided the remaining 42 should go home after considering the latest government report on security in East Timor, she said.

Prime Minister John Howard told Parliament on Thursday the level of violence in Dili had fallen in recent weeks.

But Australia was immediately sending an extra 120 troops because the escape of 57 inmates from Dili's prison on Aug. 30 had "escalated tensions," he said.

At the time of Howard's announcement, Australia had 930 military personnel and 180 police in East Timor.

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ABC News Online

September 9, 2006. 7:01am (AEST)

Dept refuses E Timorese protection visas

Forty-two East Timorese, who were granted temporary humanitarian visas in Australia earlier this year, are now being told they have three days to return home.

It comes just one day after Prime Minister John Howard announced 120 extra soldiers would be sent to the country to calm the recent unrest.

When violence broke out in East Timor earlier this year, 42 locals fled to Australia for refuge.

They were granted temporary humanitarian protection visas which have now run out and the Immigration Department has refused to extend them.

Fourteen of the refugees are in the Northern Territory and local MLA Paul Henderson says they should not be forced home.

"One arm of government is saying things aren't too good in East Timor and we need to send more troops over there and another arm of government is saying it's safe for these 14 to go home," he said.

The department has issued a statement saying it has been advised there is no suggestion the people are likely to be targeted if they return home.

Troops headed to E Timor

Meanwhile, an additional 120 Townsville-based soldiers are flying to East Timor this morning in response to escalating tensions.

The troops will reinforce the Australian contingent in Dili following the recent jailbreak by 57 prisoners, including rebel leader, Alfredo Reinado.

The soldiers will replace 130 others who are returning to Australia in the next week.

Commanding Officer of 1-RAR, Lieutenant Andrew Gallaway, says troops will not be in any greater danger than usual, despite threats from Reinado that he will shoot at Australian troops.

"That's the sort of situation we could face in any theatre, be it the Solomon Islands or Afghanistan so we go prepared," he said.

"We're well armed, we're very well equipped, well trained and these guys are very well led to deal with any of those situations."


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