Subject: WT: Fear over Indon plan to move refugees to islands
Date: Thu, 16 Sep 1999 17:37:34 EDT

The Washington Times Thursday, September 16, 1999

Indonesia proposes dispersing refugees to islands


JAKARTA, Indonesia

A proposal by Indonesia's Ministry of Transmigration to move refugees from East Timor to other islands has sparked fears among diplomats and human rights workers that independence supporters will be moved against their will.

Transmigration Minister A.M. Hendro Priyono prompted the concern earlier this week during a visit to Kupang, the provincial capital of Indonesian-ruled West Timor.

"They must be resettled as soon as possible in order not to cause new problems for local residents or themselves," Mr. Priyono said.

He was referring to tens of thousands of East Timorese refugees who have fled to squalid camps in neighboring West Timor to escape a murderous rampage by armed paramilitary militias opposed to independence for East Timor. In some cases, the camps are controlled by armed members of the very militias the refugees fled.

For decades, Jakarta's Transmigration Ministry has resettled Indonesian homesteaders, mainly from the densely populated areas, to remote spots on the archipelago of more than 13,000 islands.

Mr. Priyono said land already designated for East Timor's transmigrants could accommodate about 100,000 refugees.

The land parcels are on the nearby smaller islands of Sumba, Flores and Alor to the north and east; and also in West Timor, Mr. Priyono added.

"If the exodus continues, we will seek new places outside the province [of West Timor], for example in Maluku and Irian Jaya," Mr. Priyono said.

The places he cited are less-developed islands where outsiders are usually reluctant to live.

An official of one human rights group said officials may try to disguise the loyalties of refugees, claiming they are opposed to independence and too terrified to return to East Timor.

The Indonesian government may say that they need to be relocated "for their safety" because of the threat of "revenge killings," said the human rights official on the strict condition of anonymity.

Indonesia will seek to deter refugees from returning to East Timor in order to weaken pro-independence sentiment in the half-island territory, the aid official said.

"It is definite. There is no doubt."

He said his warnings of forced resettlement are based on widespread contacts with diplomats, aid workers, Indonesian officials, East Timorese and others.

His concern over the refugees' fate came to light when a reporter overheard him making worried telephone calls from his office to various officials alerting them to the danger.

The squalid camps in West Timor hold people who voted both for and against independence. They fled because of the raging violence that followed the Aug. 30 vote.

But when interviewed by visiting reporters and workers, most have indicated they wish to return to their homeland once international peacekeepers restore calm.

Even refugees who were part of the small minority voting for East Timor to remain part of Indonesia have said they wish to return to their homes in an independent East Timor.

Refugees moved to distant resettlement sites could complain that their true loyalties were falsified and demand repatriation to East Timor, the human rights official said.

"I'm not sure they can keep them there, on other islands, or stop the refugees from eventually drifting back to East Timor on their own," he added.

But if they were dispersed to scattered, isolated regions on far-flung, impoverished islands --without valid documents, independent monitoring or easy access to the outside world -- it could be difficult for them to later enter an independent East Timor.

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