Subject: SMH: Timor children reunited with parents but some refuse to return

Sydney Morning Herald

Monday, September 17, 2001 East Timor children reunited with parents but some refuse to return

By Lindsay Murdoch, Herald Correspondent in Bali

Eight children and their parents, who were separated at the height of violence in East Timor two years ago, have been reunited after a year-long tug-of-war with pro-Jakarta Timorese activists.

The children, part of a group of 130 aged between seven and 16, have been living in Indonesian orphanages.

But they were distressed and confused when they met their parents at a United Nations-organised reunion at a hotel in Bali at the weekend.

They said they did not want to return to East Timor, fuelling concerns they had been brainwashed.

One 14-year-old boy, Abril Salvador, became violent after his father told him that he had to return. Kicking and punching people who surrounded him, he screamed in front of the other children waiting in a bus to go to the airport: "I told you I don't want to go. Don't want to go."

Eventually a sobbing Mr Domingus Salvador agreed to let his son stay in Indonesia under the guardianship of the Hati organisation, headed by Timorese activist Dr Octavio Soares.

"This is all coercion. It's against human rights," Dr Soares said after most of the parents, brought by the UN to Bali for the reunion, insisted that their children return to East Timor with them.

"But that's just fine by me. I'll follow their rules," he said.

A spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Ms Kemala Ahwil, who watched the tense reunion, said the parents had the right to decide what was best for the children.

For months, Dr Soares and the Hati organisation have blocked UNHCR attempts to hand over 18 children whose parents had authorised their return to East Timor.

He insisted on the Bali reunion rather than a UN plan to fly the children directly to East Timor, where the parents had returned from West Timor.

Mr Marty Natalegawa, a senior official of Indonesia's Foreign Affairs Department, said his Government helped broker the Bali reunion because of an impasse between the Hati organisation and UNHCR officials representing the parents.

But a humanitarian worker, who has monitored the children's plight, yesterday criticised the decision to put the children in the position of trying to convince their parents to let them stay.

"The parents have asked for their children back," the worker said. "That should have happened without putting the kids and parents through the additional trauma of a reunion in Bali because Octavio Soares insisted on it. Of course the children did not want to go back.

"They have not seen their parents for a long time and have been under the influence of people who want them to stay in Indonesia."

East Timor's president in-waiting, Mr Jose "Xanana" Gusmao, raised the issue of the children with Indonesia's President, Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri, last week.

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