Subject: DPA: Indonesian president orders Timor refugee camps closed

Deutsche Presse-Agentur

July 31, 2000

Indonesian president orders Timor refugee camps closed Jakarta

President Abdurrahman Wahid has ordered the immediate closure of refugee camps in Indonesian West Timor following international demands to stop pro-Jakarta militias from using them as bases to launch attacks into East Timor, the state-run Antara news agency reported on Monday.

U.N. officials in Jakarta and West Timor said they had not been informed by the government of any decision to close the camps, which are housing around 120,000 East Timorese.

Antara cited Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab as saying the refugees would be registered and have to immediately choose whether to remain in Indonesia or return home.

The U.N. has helped repatriated more than 160,000 East Timorese whom the militias forced at gun-point into neighbouring West Timor last September following the territory's vote for independence.

But the remaining refugees, some of whom supported pro-integration forces, are either afraid of retribution back home, or are being intimidated or forcibly prevented from leaving by the militias, officials have said.

The foreign ministers of the U.S., Australia, Japan, Canada and other nations again called on Indonesia to disband the militias and facilitate the return of refugees on the sideline of last weekend's meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Bangkok.

The latest call was prompted by the shooting death on July 24 of a New Zealand peace-keeper serving in East Timor with the U.N., who was allegedly killed by militiamen who had infiltrated the territory from West Timor.

"The closure of the camps will make clear who among the East Timorese are willing to remain in Indonesia or return to East Timor, " Shihab told reporters in Jakarta, according to Antara.

"For those who want to return to East Timor, there's no reason for them to postpone their departure because various facilities have already been prepared such as housing and food assistance in East Timor, " the foreign minister said.

Indonesian officials have previously said the militias, who continue to control the camps and terrorize refugees, were only part of the security problem along the borders of East Timor and West Timor.

Craig Sanders, an official at the U.N. refugee agency in Kupang, West Timor, said he was unaware of any decision to close the camps, and warned that forced evictions could trigger a humanitarian disaster and security problems.

"This is something we've been arguing against at various times," he told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa. "It could potentially be catastrophic, not only for the people involved but it could set off a chain reaction on the security side."

Sanders said that while the U.N. has set up facilities in East Timor to assist returning refugees, nothing was in place to handle a possible flood of people coming across the border from West Timor.

"I'm certainly not aware of any special preparations," he said. "If people were forced across the border, it could destabilize East Timor. To think you can get rid of the problems by closing the camps, to me it's oversimplified ... but none of us want to see these camps here indefinitely."

Sulaiman Abdulmanan, a foreign ministry spokesman, said the government would not close the camps without an agreement with foreign governments and aid agencies on how to repatriate refugees who want to go home.

"It's a technical problem to discuss," he said. "We cannot solve the problem in one night."

The U.N. has previously tried to register the remaining refugees to determine who wished to return home, but the latest attempt was cancelled after militiamen attacked the offices of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Kupang.


August Menu
World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu

Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter V3.5.8, is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from http://www.v3inc.com/