Subject: Indonesia insists W.Timor safe, urges UN to return

Indonesia insists W.Timor safe, urges UN to return

JAKARTA, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Indonesia on Tuesday urged the United Nations to resume work in West Timor to help repatriate thousands of East Timorese refugees in camps and insisted U.N. staff were safe from armed militias.

Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab, speaking after a meeting between President Abdurrahman Wahid and U.N. general assembly president Harri Holkeri, said the repatriation process would be open to criticism if the international body stayed away.

U.N. organisations fled West Timor last September after three foreign aid workers of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) were hacked to death by pro-Jakarta East Timorese militias in the West Timor border town of Atambua.

The militias, with backing from elements of the Indonesian military, ravaged East Timor in 1999 when the territory voted to break from Jakarta's harsh 23-year rule.

Around 300,000 East Timorese either fled into West Timor or were forced by militias to uproot when foreign troops entered to restore peace. Around 100,000 remain in squalid border camps.

"The U.N. should return there immediately, so that the process of registering the refugees will not be regarded as one-sided," Shihab told reporters without elaborating.

But Holkeri, who is from Finland, repeated previous statements by U.N. officials that West Timor was still unsafe.

"It is important that the security situation in West Timor be guaranteed so we can return. But at the moment, it is not possible because of the present militia force there," said Holkeri, who visited East Timor in recent days.

It was unclear how long Holkeri would be in Jakarta.

The murders and sacking of the UNHCR office on September 6 sparked condemnation of Indonesia and threats to withhold aid. A court in Jakarta last week began trying six men suspected over the murders.

Shihab said the only way the United Nations could be sure about security in West Timor was to assess it themselves, adding the government was sticking by previous reassurances that the September killings would not happen again.

Jakarta insists it has also made progress in disarming the militias, who operate from the camps.

The trial of the six suspects in the U.N. killings was to resume on Tuesday, although officials postponed the hearings after saying three of the men were ill with dengue fever.

All six, who are being tried in groups of three, are East Timorese but consider themselves Indonesian. They face between 12 to 34 years in prison if convicted.

The trials were adjourned until next Tuesday.

The hearings are being held in the same court where notorious East Timorese militia leader Eurico Guterres is being tried over separate violence in West Timor.

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