|Subject: Rights body calls for halt in East
Timor refugee registration
HRW Press Release is at http://www.hrw.org/press/2000/10/wtimor1024.htm.
Rights body calls for halt in East Timor refugee registration
JAKARTA, Oct 24 (AFP) - Human Rights Watch called Tuesday on Indonesia to stop registering East Timorese refugees for repatriation or resettlement, saying there were no safeguards for them to chose freely whether they wanted to go home or not.
A 47-member government task force was sent to West Timor on October 13 to begin preparations for the re-registration of some 130,000 refugees still stranded on the Indonesian half of Timor island, according to the home affairs ministry.
The New York-based rights group in a statement recieved here, said it understood the team had begun the re-registration process on October 19.
But Indonesia's chief political, security and social affairs minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said on Monday that the re-registration process would not begin until early November, ahead of the planned visit by a UN Security Council delegation on November 13.
Yudhoyono said the process would enable the refugees "to choose freely whether to return back to East Timor or stay in Indonesia."
But Human Rights Watch urged donors funding the repatriation and resettlement effort to wait until "the development of an impartial and fully transparent registration procedure that meets standards of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)."
The UNHCR pulled its staff out of West Timor in early September after the murder of three of its staff there by former pro-Jakarta East Timorese militia, thousands of whom are in West Timor.
"Everyone wants a quick resolution of the refugee crisis, but unless the refugees can express their wishes without intimidation or pressure, the process will have no credibility," Sidney Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said.
The statement urged the Indonesian government to adopt safeguards against militia intimidation of the refugees over their choice of whether to return to East Timor or not.
The rights group suggested including the drawing up of a neutral questionnaire "free of loaded questions," a draft of which could be reviewed by international humanitarian agencies, local church and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and the United Nations.
Political organizations, such as the Union of Timorese Warriors (UNTAS), which groups the former militia, should be excluded from the process lest they influence the survey, it added.
Officials in UN-administered East Timor (UNTAET) should also prepare a fact sheet explaining and detailing what returning refugees can expect when they get back. The Indonesian government should also prepare a similar fact sheet, it said.
Since the September 6 killings of the aid workers in the West Timorese border town of Atambua, Indonesia has been under intense pressure from the international community to disarm and disband the militia.
The pro-Jakarta militia were responsible for much of the violence which swept across East Timor after its people voted for independence from Indonesia last year.
Some 250,000 people were driven out by the violence to West Timor before the arrival of a UN-sanctioned peace keeping force, but more than 100,000 have since returned with UN assistance.
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