Subject: East Timorese urged to decide on nationality

Jakarta Post December 28, 1999

East Timorese urged to decide on nationality

JAKARTA (JP): The government has urged East Timorese refugees to choose whether they want to be repatriated or remain in Indonesia, hoping to settle the aggravating issue before the new fiscal year starts on April 1, 2000.

Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare and Poverty Eradication Basri Hasanuddin told reporters on Monday that the government would issue a regulation instructing refugees to declare their choice of nationality.

"We have to cope with the refugee problem by April, otherwise this (situation) will be more difficult for us to tackle," he said.

He indicated, however, that if necessary the government would extend the deadline to the next fiscal year for East Timorese to make their choice.

Basri said the draft of the regulation was being drawn up by the Ministry of Law and Legislation.

He was speaking after attending a ministerial meeting on security and political affairs presided over by the coordinating minister of security and political affairs, Wiranto.

While announcing the regulation would be a presidential decree, Wiranto gave no details about it or when it would take effect.

"I think this (decree) needs wise deliberation, because it will deal with a few aspects, in particular psychological ones. We don't want the decree to offend our East Timorese brothers," Wiranto said.

Basri said some 130,000 East Timorese remained sheltered in refugee centers across East Nusa Tenggara, which abuts the former Portuguese colony. They were some of the over 260,000 people to flee their violence- devastated hometown following the Aug. 30 ballot which saw a majority vote against wide-ranging autonomy offered by Indonesia.

The East Timorese refugees are being treated as Indonesian citizens until they opt to be otherwise, according to Basri. The current state budget allocates Rp 20 million for each displaced person nationwide.

State Minister of Transmigration and Population Al Hilal Hamdi estimated earlier this month the number of refugees across the country at 422,000. He said a resettlement program for displaced people would start in March.

Basri said the government was hoping international humanitarian agencies would maintain their assistance for the repatriation of East Timor refugees, which has been conducted since September.

Separately, a team from the National Commission for Children's Protection (Komnas PA) expressed concern over the fate of displaced children. In a statement on Monday, an executive director of the commission, Arist Merdeka Sirait, said children had suffered the most in the various riots that rocked the country.

"Children suffer not only from traumatic experiences, but physical problems like the shortage of food, water and shelter," Arist said in Medan.

The commission promotes protection for children refugees in Aceh. There were 375 children among 20,433 people fleeing Aceh following mounting clashes in the restive province. (04/39/emf)

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