Subject: SCMP: Aid workers wary of refugee camps

South China Morning Post Tuesday, August 7, 2001

EAST TIMOR Aid workers wary of refugee camps


Aid groups may be reluctant to return to refugee camps in West Timor with as many personnel as before, despite the UN giving the go-ahead for workers to go back.

The decision to allow aid workers back the camps, home to tens of thousands of East Timorese refugees, follows the investigation of conditions by a security team from the world body last month. But it is contingent upon an agreement being reached regarding specific security concerns between the UN and the Indonesian Government.

Some aid groups, including the UN, have already been visiting the camps and discussing ways to restart assistance in West Timor, and UN staff have been eager to return to the West Timor capital, Kupang. But sources raised doubts that some UN agencies would want to return in full force.

"Anyone who ever intended to go back went back long ago," one aid worker said.

UN workers and other foreign groups were evacuated from West Timor after a rampaging mob hacked and burned to death three international staff of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) last September. A trial of militiamen responsible for the murder resulted in sentences of only 20 months for those convicted, further disappointing the international community.

It remains unclear how long it will take for an agreement to be achieved with Jakarta, but some UN staff expect to be back in Kupang within three weeks.

"The UNHCR won't be going back into the camps though, they will only be involved in the relocation or repatriation of refugees," a UN source said.

The UNHCR previously had an office in Atambua near the border with East Timor, where the September atrocities occurred, but has no plans to reopen. At the time, it was trying to carry out a registration of refugees to provide a free choice to the East Timorese as to where they wanted to live.

In the subsequent absence of international staff, the Indonesian Government carried out its own registration process, which found the majority wanted to stay in Indonesia. Some observers castigated the result, saying it was due to militia pressure on the refugee population.

A UN investigation in East Timor, meanwhile, has cleared New Zealand peacekeepers of wrongdoing in the fatal shooting last month of an Indonesian soldier.

The regional military chief on the Indonesian side, General Willem da Costa, also agreed the soldier should not have been where he was when he was shot.

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