Subject: AFP: Shihab says Indon to close Timor refugee camps within months

Indonesia to close Timor refugee camps within months: FM

JAKARTA, Aug 14 (AFP) - Indonesia said Monday it was preparing to dismantle its camps for East Timorese refugees within three to six months, and repatriate or relocate the over 100,000 people who have been living in them since last year.

"In the interest of (the refugees) and Indonesia, we will close the camps soon because they have increasingly burdened us," Foreign Minster Alwi Shihab told reporters after a closed-door meeting with other senior officials meeting on the issue of the camps in West Timor.

"We are not willing to be accused of being the culprit of the violence there," Shihab said.

He was alluding to allegations East Timorese militias based in the refugee camps in the border area were conducting raids and operations into East Timor which have led to several deaths among UN peacekeeping forces.

Shihab said the government would set up a task force to close the squalid camps and relocate the remaining 130,000 refugees either to East Timor or other areas in West Timor.

He said the success of the program "depends on many aspects, including the readiness of both UNTAET ... to provide security and provisions needed for those refugees," who wanted to return to East Timor.

The UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) is charged with supervising East Timor's transition to full independence after the territory's vote for independence from Indonesia in August of last year.

Shihab appealed to the international community and donor countries to provide financial assistance for the program.

"There are obstacles to assistance given to Indonesia. Maybe because of the perception of the international community that Indonesia is responsible for the slow and sluggish return of those who want to return to East Timor," he said.

"Actually that is not the case."

He said Indonesia was determined to get the militias, who have been blamed for intimidating and obstructing the refugee repatriation program, out of the camps.

"This is part of the problem. The international commmunity accused the TNI of being the culprit of this kind of intimidation but there are actually other factors," he said.

Shihab said the other factors included political differences between pro-integration and pro-independence East Timorese and bitternes over the result of last year's ballot in which East Timorese voted overwhelmingly to break away from Indonesia.

"Even if we close the camps now you will still find the bitterness in place," he said.

He said among the refugees were 2,200 East Timorese who served in the Indonesian military and police, and they would be relocated or repatriated if UNTAET could provide security for them.

According to the UN High Commisioner for Refugees, 103 attacks against humanitarian workers and refugees have been recorded in West Timor since the aid programs there began in September 1999.

Tensions following the slaying of a New Zealand peacekeeper in East Timor -- thought to have been carried out by a West Timor-based anti-independence militia -- have prompted UNHCR to slow down its refugee repatriation activities.

Some 170,000 East Timorese have returned home since they fled violence surrounding the independence referendum.


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