Subject: SMH: UN lays down East Timorese refugee deadline

Sydney Morning Herald March 2, 2001

UN lays down refugee deadline

By Mark Dodd

Indonesia has until August 31 to organise the repatriation of tens of thousands of East Timorese refugees still living in militia-controlled camps in West Timor.

The United Nations refugee agency will then close down operations, a senior UN official said yesterday.

The Dili-based chief of operations for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr Bernard Kerblatt,

appealed to Indonesian authorities to "accelerate the process" of returning refugees and called for an act of free choice to determine how many East Timorese wished to live in Indonesia or return home.

More than 250,000 East Timorese fled or were deported to West Timor after political violence following the August 30, 1999, ballot for self-determination.

More than 176,000 of them have since returned home, but the UN believes as many as 80,000 remain in West Timor.

Mr Kerblatt's comments underscore mounting exasperation by UN aid agencies about the slow progress on repatriation. Failure of the Indonesian authorities to act on the warning could lead to an increase in inter-communal violence between West Timorese residents and East Timorese refugees, Mr Kerblatt said.

The United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) wants all refugees returned before the end of voter registration on June 20 and there are signs that pressure is being exerted from Jakarta to speed the process.

But a call by the UNTAET chief, Mr Sergio Vieira de Mello, for a policy of forced camp closures by the Indonesian military has been rejected after initially being accepted by the new UNHCR High Commissioner, Mr Ruud Lubbers.

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