Subject: AP: E Timor Refugees In W Timor To Choose Their Own Future

Associated Press June 4, 2001

E Timor Refugees In W Timor To Choose Their Own Future

DILI, East Timor (AP)--Twenty months after fleeing East Timor, tens of thousands of refugees in Indonesian West Timor will have to formally choose Wednesday whether to stay put or go home.

U.N. officials Monday said the Indonesian government-organized registration of the refugees was crucial to ending a protracted humanitarian crisis that has left hundreds of people dead from illness and disease and led to unrest on both sides of Timor island.

However, many refugees in camps in West Timor said they don't understand the two choices before them and would boycott the registration.

"Many of us have agreed to reject the registration," said Pius Patti, a refugee leader in a camp on the outskirts of West Timor's capital, Kupang. "We cannot choose between the options so we will not register."

He said the refugees hadn't been told what would happen to them if they opt to remain in Indonesia. He said it wasn't clear if they would be relocated to another Indonesian island, whether they would be given land or jobs.

Patti said local authorities hadn't made it clear when they would be returned to East Timor if they chose that route.

He said there is still fear among many refugees that they would face reprisals if they returned home. Most of the refugees still in West Timor voted to remain part of Indonesia in a U.N.-sponsored East Timorese independence referendum in 1999.

After it was announced that the overwhelming majority of East Timorese had voted to break away from Indonesia, anti-independence militias, backed up by Indonesia's army, went on a rampage forcing about 250,000 people to flee their homes and seek shelter in West Timor. Aid agencies have since repatriated most of the refugees.

"We only know about the registration from the newspapers," said refugee Mario Tilman from another camp. "The government has not come here to explain the process."

U.N. chief of staff in East Timor Nagalingam Parameswaran said he hoped the registration - which will be monitored by several international observers - would proceed smoothly.

"It is crucial to register the refugees to have accurate figures of the number remaining and for the Indonesians to know how many people they need to resettle," he said.


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