Subject: DPA: 70 percent of East Timor refugees want to leave Indonesia

Deutsche Presse-Agentur April 18, 2001, Thursday, BC Cycle

70 percent of East Timor refugees want to leave Indonesia Soe, Indonesia

Around 70 per cent of the tens of thousands of East Timorese refugees languishing in squalid camps in Indonesia want to return home, an Indonesian military official said on Wednesday.

Colonel Budi Hariyanto, military chief of Indonesia's West Timor province, told journalists touring refugee camps there that most will return to East Timor following a government registration beginning next month.

"Only about 30 per cent, mainly ex-militiamen and their families, will want to stay in Indonesia," Hariyanto said.

Pro-Jakarta militias and Indonesian army soldiers laid waste to East Timor after it voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia in an August 1999 ballot. They then forced more than 260,000 East Timorese at gunpoint across the border into Indonesia's side of the divided Timor island.

The U.N. and international refugee agencies repatriated half the refugees during the first year, but halted operations last September after militiamen brutally murdered three foreign aid workers in the West Timor border town of Atambua.

Some of the 5,000-plus refugees staying in the town of Soe, outside the provincial capital of Kupang, told reporters that reports of intimidation by the militias and local authorities to remain in Indonesia were exaggerated.

"There is no intimidation or pressure from the military or local authorities for us to stay here," said refugee Antonio Gonzales, an ex-militiaman. "Most of us are staying here because of the security situation in East Timor. "

He claimed that three ex-militiamen were detained by U.N. peacekeepers after they returned to East Timor recently, which prompted other refugees to refuse to go back.

East Timor, a former Portuguese colony later occupied by Indonesia for 24 years, is under U.N. administration as it prepares for statehood later this year.

The refugees complained of food shortages and said local authorities in West Timor had not given them their daily food allowance of 1,500 rupiah (15 cents) for three months. dpa sh jc js

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