Subject: SCMP: Agreement reached to return 10 abducted E.Timor children

South China Morning Post Tuesday, September 11, 2001

INDONESIA Agreement reached to return 10 abducted children


The Government and United Nations officials hope to oversee the handover of 10 abducted East Timorese children to their parents by the end of the week.

The children are from a group of 124 taken from their East Timorese refugee parents in West Timorese refugee camps after Indonesian-backed gangs laid waste to their homeland in 1999.

They were taken by Octavio Soares, an anti-independence figure backed by an Indonesian foundation with links to the former Suharto government. He has so far refused to return the children to their parents, now safely back in East Timor, foiling several UN efforts at family reunions.

But now an agreement appears to have been reached between his foundation, the Indonesian Government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

"I think there is already progress on this," Wahid Supriadi, an Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman, said yesterday. "It is planned that on Friday there will be a process of reunification between representatives of the parents and of the Hati Foundation and some children. This will be held in Denpasar [Bali]."

The Foreign Ministry found itself involved in the child-snatching saga after UN officials had tried for more than a year to reunite the children with their parents. Ministry officials say it is primarily a private issue - between the parents who allegedly gave their children to Soares' foundation and the foundation itself.

But outrage at the UN's inability to conclude any successful return of the children so far has put Indonesia's international reputation on the line.

"It is in our interests to see this solved properly," Mr Wahid said.

The UN officials agree, although official confirmation of the Friday meeting is being withheld for fear the foundation could take umbrage and once again foil the planned reunion.

"Yes, a meeting is planned which is supposed to be a reunification of parents with their children. I think, for the time being, that the Indonesian Government is doing what it can," a UN official said.

Eight sets of parents are making their way to Dili, the capital of East Timor, and will be brought to Bali to collect their children at the Friday meeting.

"This is the first time the Indonesian Foreign Ministry is finally assisting in a meaningful way and we hope and we plan for 10 children to be reunited with their parents," a UN source said.

"But the Hati Foundation has shown itself to be quite unpredictable. They have many times made problems between the parents and the children, telling the children their parents are not in East Timor, that the parents don't want them back and so on. Let's just hope it goes all right on Friday."

The Hati Foundation placed the children in orphanages on Java to give them an Indonesian education, which appears to nurture support for a return of Indonesian rule over East Timor.

East Timor's acting Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta has denounced the child-snatching as "outrageous". He says he will bring the issue to the UN Security Council for further action.

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