Subject: APF: Indonesia offers East Timor refugees money to return home

Received from Joyo Indonesian News

Indonesia offers East Timor refugees money to return home

JAKARTA, Nov 20 (AFP) - The military chief in Indonesia's West Timor province said Tuesday the government will give the equivalent of 70 dollars to each East Timorese refugee wanting to return to their homeland.

Major General William da Costa said the 750,000 rupiah (70 dollars) allowance, from the ministry of people's welfare, is expected to help refugees returning home to East Timor, according to the state Antara news agency.

"The money can be obtained when the head of the family (of refugees) register themselves to go back (to East Timor). At the registration, they will be photographed and it will be used as a document to avoid double allowance," da Costa said in Kupang, the capital of West Timor.

He said many East Timorese refugees had insufficient food supplies when they returned to their homeland and the allowance was expected to cover that cost for a while.

An estimated quarter of a million East Timorese fled or were forced into West Timor in the wake of East Timor's overwhelming vote for independence on August 30, 1999, after 24 years of enforced Indonesian rule.

Local pro-Jakarta militias, backed by the Indonesian military, unleashed a wave of killing and destruction in response to the vote.

The cash-strapped government has been trying to persuade more East Timorese refugees to return to the now UN-administered territory. Some 100,000 refugees still remain holed up in squalid camps in West Timor.

On October 30, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it had helped repatriate some 188,646 East Timorese refugees from West Timor in the past two years.

The UNHCR also confirmed that it will extend its voluntary repatriation operation supporting the East Timorese refugees until June next year.

International relief agencies including the UNHCR pulled out of West Timor after three foreign UNHCR staff were murdered by a mob in September last year.

It is now operating out of East Timor in the repatriation operation.

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