Subject: CNS: Bishop Belo calls for return of refugees by end of year


East Timor bishop calls for return of refugees by end of year By Catholic News Service

DILI, East Timor (CNS) -- Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo has repeated his call for East Timor refugees in Indonesia to return to their homeland by January.

``I have learned of the Indonesian government's plan to end its humanitarian aid (to East Timor refugees) on Dec. 31. I hope that the refugees will immediately return to their home villages,'' said Bishop Belo, apostolic administrator of Dili, reported UCA News, an Asian church news agency based in Thailand.

Bishop Belo said he did not agree with some refugees who decided to stay in West Timor or other regions in Indonesia. He said they would be cut off from their families and culture in East Timor.

``Repatriation is the best solution to the refugee problem,'' he said.

Bishop Belo, recipient of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize, said that the return of the refugees was a prerequisite for the success of ongoing reconciliation meetings between East Timorese independence leaders and those who supported integration with Indonesia.

``All the hitherto meetings are only pre-reconciliation. Reconciliation can only be achieved if refugees return home and build their country toward a better, just and peaceful future,'' he said.

The bishop also said he is happy about the recent return of about 2,000 refugees, mostly hailing from southern districts of East Timor.

He expressed hope that the refugee problem would be settled soon so that ``economic, cultural and educational cooperation between East Timor and Indonesia can be developed.''

Indonesia invaded East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, in 1975. More than 200,000 people were killed or died of disease or starvation during Indonesia's often brutal rule.

In 1999, East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence in a U.N.-sponsored referendum. More than 1,000 people were killed in the orgy of violence led by militia groups and elements of the Indonesian military that followed the announcement that the East Timorese rejected Indonesian rule.

In addition some 280,000 East Timorese fled or were forced at gunpoint into neighboring West Timor and other Indonesian islands.

About 60,000 to 80,000 refugees remain in squalid camps in West Timor. The majority have links with the former Indonesian administration or militia groups, according to UCA News.

East Timor currently is being administered by a U.N. transitional government. A recently elected assembly is drafting a constitution. Presidential elections are expected in March. The assembly has requested from the United Nations full independence by May 20.

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