Subject: Indonesia to register East Timor refugees

Indonesia to register East Timor refugees

JAKARTA, Aug 1 (AFP) - Indonesian authorities plan to register all East Timorese refugees still on Indonesian soil and make a last offer, to either stay or return home, a report said Tuesday.

Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab, speaking after a meeting at the office of the coordinating minister for politics and security, said the government was considering closing camps sheltering the refugees on the Indonesian side of the border with East Timor.

Shihab was quoted by the Antara news agency as saying that many, including foreign governments, had cited East Timorese militias in the border camps, as a source of trouble as well as blaming them for the killing of a New Zealand peacekeeper in East Timor last week.

But before closing the camps, the govermment needed to know how many East Timorese remained, and how many of them had no plans to return to East Timor.

"The registration of the population should not be delayed," Shihab was quoted by Antara as saying.

He also said the East Timorese refugees will also be asked to give a final answer: whether they wanted to stay or return home.

"They will be faced with the choice of staying or returning. If they say they demand time, then that will be considered as wanting to stay," Shihab said.

He said registration was expected to start in about two months.

The existence of border camps had made Indonesia vulnerable to various accusations, including one by Washington that Indonesian armed forces were trying to hinder the repatriation of refugees, he said.

US Ambassador to Indonesia Robert Gelbard was quoted Tuesday as having told the Australian daily, the Sydney Morning Herald, that it was "lamentable and inexcusable" that Jakarta has so far failed to disarm the militia in West Timor.

"We have so far been only on the defensive but now we will be on the offensive," Shihab said.

Shihab will meet UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in New York on August 19 to discuss the issue of the East Timorese refugees in West Timor.

Some 250,000 East Timorese fled, or were forced to flee at gunpoint, to West Timor during the militia violence that followed the announcement in September of the pro-independence results of a UN-held ballot in East Timor.

Around 140,000, including many former members of the pro-Indonesian militias, remain in camps in West Timor.

The United States froze military ties with Indonesia over the violent rampage after the independence vote, and has insisted militias be moved before it will consider a resumption of military hardware deliveries.

UN agencies trying to register the refugees, say their efforts have been thwarted by militia harrassment.


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