Subject: Indonesia Poll Of Refugees A Sham -E Timor's Ramos-Horta

Associated Press June 8, 2001

Indonesia Poll Of Refugees A Sham -E Timor's Ramos-Horta

JAKARTA (AP)--An Indonesian-run poll this week to determine whether thousands of refugees now in West Timor want to return to East Timor is a "sham," Nobel Peace laureate Jose Ramos-Horta said Friday.

Ramos-Horta said the refugees were too afraid of being kidnapped, murdered and raped by armed pro-Indonesian gangs to say they want to go home.

An overwhelming majority of East Timorese refugees in Indonesian West Timor have opted to stay in refugee camps instead of going home, early figures from an official registration show.

"It's an absolute farce," Ramos-Horta told The Associated Press by telephone from Darwin, Australia. "The Indonesian side does not seem to learn that they cannot fool us."

Militias, backed by Indonesia's army, rampaged through East Timor after people there voted to break away from Indonesia in August 1999 in a U.N.-sponsored referendum. More than 250,000 people were forced to flee their homes amid brutal violence after the landslide vote for independence.

Aid groups say the gangs have maintained a campaign of fear over the camps ever since and threatened those who wish to leave.

The groups claim that the militias have been using the refugees as a political bargaining chip with the Indonesian government and the international community, which has called for those responsible for 1999's violence to be brought to justice.

"It's a sham because the Indonesians never made any effort in fulfilling their pledges to disarm the Indonesian armed gangs. The people continue to be intimidated and traumatized," he said. "I am not surprised that the preliminary results show the majority want to stay in Indonesia. They are scared because of the presence of militia gangs and the Indonesian army."

"We are going to see thousands of people languishing in the camps for years to come and women continuing to be sex slaves of militia gangs," said Ramos-Horta, who is widely expected to become East Timor's foreign minister after independence is granted next year. "This is the grim reality in the camps."

The poll ended late Thursday, but it may take several days to tally the results. Official interim figures released late Thursday showed 42,531 refugees had opted to become Indonesians and 4,259 want to return to East Timor.

Despite fears that militia gangs might attempt to derail the two-day registration, the poll ended peacefully. Ramos-Horta said many refugees had been "told they would be kidnapped and killed as soon as the census was over" if they voted to return to East Timor.

Some refugees collaborated with the Indonesians during the 1999 violence and may have reason to fear going home. Ramos-Horta said people had nothing to worry about if they were innocent and that East Timor did not practice "summary justice."

The peace prize winner said it might be best for refugees to wait for the international community and the United Nations to help monitor a poll. The threat of sanctions on Indonesia from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank would help the refugees from East Timor, he said.

"My advice to them is to break out the registration process until the militia gangs are disarmed and put on trial," he said.


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