Subject: DPA: Indonesian officials urge East Timor refugees to go home

Deutsche Presse Agentur Date: 28 Jun 2001

Indonesian officials urge East Timor refugees to go home

Atambua, Indonesia (dpa) - Facing the prospect of resettling tens of thousands of East Timorese refugees, an Indonesian government delegation on Thursday appealed to pro-Jakarta militia leaders to return home.

The appeal by senior Security Minister Agum Gumela came after a surprising 98 per cent of refugees languishing in Indonesian-controlled West Timor opted earlier this month to remain there.

Jakarta, which is trying to cope with over 1 million internally displaced people, had expected most of the estimated 100,000 refugees to chose to return to East Timor during a registration.

Local aid organizations slammed the registration as a ruse, saying the refugees were being intimidated by militia gangs running the refugee camps to remain in Indonesia.

The militias and Indonesian army soldiers launched a rape, murder and arson spree in East Timor after it overwhelmingly voted for independence in an August 1999 ballot. They then marched some 260,000 East Timorese into neighbouring West Timor at gun-point and held them there.

The Jakarta government, facing international humiliation for the actions of its military, is desperate to end the East Timore refugee crisis before it enters its second year this September.

Gumelar, who met with militia leaders in the West Timor border town of Atambua, tried to convince them that East Timor was safe and it was time to reconcile.

``Just forget what happened in the past because there's no use continuing to be angry and seek revenge,'' he said, implying that the refugees should return rather than be settled in Indonesia.

Gumelar was accompanied by Admiral Widodo A.S., commander of the Indonesian Defence Forces, and other cabinet ministers and officials.

East Timor is now rebuilding under a U.N. administration as it prepares for statehood following elections slated for later this year.

Independence leaders have urged the refugees, including militia leaders, to return home, but warned that those who committed crimes would be arrested and prosecuted.

Joao Tavares, commander of the notorious Aitarak militia, which allegedly massacred dozens of people in two separate incidents in 1999, said they would return home if there were guarantees the militia members would not be arrested.

``We did our best to keep East Timor integrated into Indonesia,'' he told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa. ``We don't want to return to East Timor and be treated as criminals.'' dpa jc nt mu

AP-NY-06-28-01 0817EDT


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