Subject: IO: E. Timorese refugees must choose by May 1: Indon govt

Indonesian Observer March 22, 2001

E. Timorese refugees must choose by May 1

JAKARTA - The government yesterday gave a deadline for East Timorese refugees, who are still stuck in the country's province of East Nusa Tenggara (NTT), to decide by May 1 whether they wanted to stay in Indonesia or return to their homeland.

Chief security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the refugees would have to choose whether they wanted to return to East Timor or be resettled within Indonesia.

The government would register the refugees on that date and they would then be moved out of the camps shortly afterwards, he said during a meeting held to brief foreign ambassadors in Jakarta on Indonesia's latest situation.

The UN estimates that there are still about 50,000 East Timorese in camps in West Timor. Many of them are expected to stay in Indonesia after having voted against independence in a UN-sponsored referendum in August, 1999. More than 250,000 refugees fled East Timor amid a rampage by pro-Jakarta militias following the independence ballot.

Efforts to repatriate the refugees stalled in September last year after three UN foreign aid workers were murdered by a pro-Jakarta militia mob in the border town of Atambua, West Timor, which is a part of NTT.

Meanwhile, UN officials left East Timor's capital Dili yesterday, and headed for West Timor to repatriate about 200 refugees, AP reported.

The UN team traveled to the NTT capital of Kupang, on the same ship that will carry the refugees back to East Timor on Saturday.

East Timor's UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) director Bernard Kerblat was quoted as saying the trip was organized after Indonesian authorities indicated that there was a group of East Timorese who wanted to return home.

The UNHCR on Monday said they failed to send home 14 East Timorese children from Semarang, in Central Java after encountering difficulties with Indonesians holding them.

"The main issue impeding progress is the lack of agreement between all parties on what constitutes the best interests of the child," it said a press statement.

The 14 were among the East Timorese refugees sent by their parents or guardians from West Timor in late 1999, to orphanages and other social institutions in Central Java and other provinces, where they received free schooling.

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