Subject: AFP: UN security officers to assess situation in West Timor

Agence France-Presse (AFP)

UN security officers to assess situation in West Timor

JAKARTA, March 16 (AFP) - United Nations security officers will assess next month whether it is safe for their aid workers to return to Indonesian-ruled West Timor to assist in resettling East Timorese refugees, a spokeswoman said Friday.

"A UN security department team will go to West Timor on April 1 to determine how safe conditions are," a spokeswoman at the Jakarta office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told AFP.

The UN and most international agency staff fled the province after three UN refugee workers were killed by a mob of anti-independence East Timorese in the border town of Atambua last September.

A "Phase 5" security status still applies to West Timor for all UN staff, prohibiting them from entering the province where tens of thousands of refugees have been awaiting resettlement out of squalid camps for up to 18 months.

The spokeswoman, however, emphasised that a UNHCR presence was "not that important" for further resettlement programmes.

"We depend on the (Indonesian government) taskforce there," she said.

"We still support the mandate of the Indonesian government in resettling ther refugees."

The taskforce would conduct refugee registrations in April with the help of the military, to determine who wished to stay in Indonesia and who wished to return to East Timor.

Keeping intimidating ex-militia leaders away from the refugees as they made their choices, cited as the major obstacle to registrations, would be "the job of the military and the taskforce," the spokeswoman said.

International observers, not necessarily from the UNHCR, would monitor the registrations, she said adding that arrangements were at a premature stage.

The taskforce would then arrange to repatriate refugees, who wished to return, before tentatively scheduled elections in East Timor on August 30, she said.

Some 250,000 East Timorese were forced over the border into West Timor by anti-independence militia gangs in the wake of the half-island territory's vote to break away from 24 years of Indonesian rule in 1999.

Estimates of the number of refugees remaining in the West Timor camps vary from almost 130,000 to 50,000.

bc/cas AFP

Copyright (c) 2001 Agence France-Presse

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