Subject: JP: U.S. official wants swift repatriation of refugees

Jakarta Post October 11, 1999

U.S. official wants swift repatriation of refugees

JAKARTA (JP): The United States government urged Indonesia on Saturday to carry out a swift repatriation of East Timor refugees who wish to return to their homeland and immediately halt and disarm militias to ensure security in refugee camps.

"East Timorese refugees should be allowed to make a free and informed choice about whether to return to East Timor, to remain in East Nusa Tenggara or to be resettled elsewhere, without fear of retribution," Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Harold Hongju Koh told a media conference.

Koh led a six-member U.S. delegation which conducted a five-day investigation throughout refugee camps in the East Nusa Tenggara towns of Kupang and Atambua, Dili in East Timor and Denpasar in Bali recently.

Koh said the Indonesian government should accommodate the evacuation of East Timor refugees, the process of which should meet international standards and involve the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

While appreciating Indonesia for "a good-faith effort to provide adequate food, shelter, water and medicine" for the refugees, Koh said there were clear indications that pro-Jakarta militias were still terrorizing and targeting proindependence East Timorese throughout East Nusa Tenggara camps.

"The refugees are living in fear of the militias, which elements of the Indonesian Military (TNI) organized, trained, directed and still support," Koh said.

Without trying to blame TNI, Koh said the militias had spread fear among residents to prevent them from publicly expressing their preference to return home.

A troubling disinformation campaign by the militias had also frightened the refugees into believing that they would be in danger of the International Forces for East Timor (Interfet) if they were to return to East Timor, Koh said.

He pointed out that the crisis in East Timor could only be resolved if the government was willing to cooperate with the international community and to assure that the militias do not threaten and harm anyone.

"If the Indonesian government wants to get to the heart of the problem (on East Timor refugees) we have to underline the security situation," Harold told reporters.

He said the U.S. is prepared to join in the humanitarian efforts.

Earlier in the day, Koh met with TNI chief of Territorial Affairs Lt. Gen. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at TNI Headquarters in the Jakarta suburb of Cilangkap.

The U.S. delegation also held a meeting with newly elected People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) speaker Amien Rais to report details of the investigation.

The MPR, which is now convening, is expected to issue a decree which will endorse East Timor's separation from Indonesia, 23 years after becoming its 27th province.

More than 260,000 East Timorese have crossed the border with East Nusa Tenggara to flee rampaging violence after a UN-supervised self- determination ballot on Aug. 30 saw the majority vote against Indonesia's wide-ranging autonomy offer.

The refugees began to trickle back to their home soil on Friday by both air and land. As of Sunday nearly 400 people had moved back to East Timor.

With repatriation beginning, family reunion is the main priority of the humanitarian mission's program in the territory.

In Ujungpandang, South Sulawesi, the Forum for Unity, Peace and Justice (FPDK) called on Sunday for all East Timor prointegration refugees not to return to the disputed territory, citing safety concerns.

"All the refugees should not go back to East Timor because no security forces, neither Interfet nor TNI, can protect them," Alfredo dos Santos, the forum's secretary general, said.

He was commenting on reports which said that many prointegration East Timorese had been killed or tortured by the proindependence armed wing Fretilin and the Australian-led multinational force Interfet. (04/27)

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