Subject: Rival E. Timorese factions agree to work towards refugee repatriation

Rival East Timorese factions agree to work towards refugee repatriation

JAKARTA, July 27 (AFP) - Rival East Timorese pro and anti-independence groups on Thursday agreed to work together to speed up the return of some 100,000 refugees from camps in West Timor, a report said Thursday.

The agreement was reached at a meeting held behind closed doors at the headquarters of the Udayana military command headquarters on the resort island of Bali, the state Antara news agency said.

The head of the UN Transitional Administration in East TimorSergio Vieira de Mello, was present, along with East Timorese resistance leader Xanana Gusmao and pro-Indonesian East Timorese.

"We agreed to repatriate them (the refugees) but we have yet to agree on the mechanism, so further talks are needed," Antara quoted a representative of the pro-independence National Resistance Council of East Timor (CNRT), as saying.

The representative, idenified only as Asis, said another round of talks will be held either in Kupang, the main city in West Timor, or in the East Timorese capital of Dili, but a date had yet to be set.

Marcal Almeda, from the pro-Indonesia camp, described the talks as "tough" and said that one of the main points in the debate was who would be responsible for the refugees after they reached East Timor.

Among the pro-independence East Timorese figures attending the talks was Nobel Peace laureate Jose Ramos Horta.

Also present at the meeting was the commander of the UN peacekeeping force in East Timor, Thai Lieutenant General Boosrang Niumpradit.

"In brief, the proposal, which has been agreed by both parties, is to return the refugees under the protection of the militias," Indonesia's Udayana Commander, Major General Kiki Syahnakri, was quoted by the Jakarta Post as saying.

He was referring to the pro-Indonesian militia that laid waste to the territory last year.

"I hope that in the near future, we will be able to put the plan into effect," he added.

Some 250,000 people fled or were moved at gun-point to Indonesian-controlled West Timor during the the post-ballot violence in East Timor last year.

More than 10 months later, more than 90,000 East Timorese remain in camps in West Timor. Syahnakri estimated the number at about 120,000 people.

Humanitarian aid workers and rights activists have accused the militia, whom they said control the camps in West Timor, of intimidating and terrorizing refugees into not returning to East Timor.

Members of the armed gangs, who fled their homeland after the deployment of international forces in East Timor, have also been accused of harassing aid workers.

The announcement, on September 4, 1999, of the overwhelming support for independence from Indonesia in the August 30 UN-held ballot was greeted by weeks of violence, with the army-backed militias conducting an unchecked campaign of terror and destruction across the territory.

About half of the population fled their homes, to West Timor or to the forests and the hills in East Timor.

Indonesia formally relinquished the former Portuguese colony it had annexed in 1976 to the United Nations in October last year.


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