Subject: 500 TNI members of East Timorese origin return home

The Jakarta Post September 19, 2001

500 TNI members of East Timorese origin return home

JAKARTA (JP): At least 500 Indonesian Military (TNI) personnel who were East Timorese natives voluntarily surrendered their military badges and returned to their homeland, a top military chief said on Tuesday.

Udayana Military Commander Maj. Gen. Willem da Costa talked to reporters after inspecting the construction of a dormitory for troops in Ajendam.

"I could not hold them back. It is their right to return to their homeland and they should not be prevented," da Costa was quoted as saying by Antara.

The Indonesian Military had even encouraged them to return to East Timor rather than become refugees, da Costa said.

He added that they were provided with allowances worth between Rp 9 million (US$934.6) and Rp 17 million ($1765.3) according to their rank.

Da Costa denied allegations that TNI had intentionally let its native East Timorese members go due to problems concerning loyalty. Da Costa said it was military policy to let the troops decide whether to stick with the Indonesian Military or to go home.

"That would very much depend on their own choice," Da Costa said.

Asked about the number of TNI troops who had already returned to East Timor in addition to those who would follow in the steps of the 500 troops, da Costa, himself a native of East Timor, said "quite a lot".

Da Costa Also added that along with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization on Migration (IOM) and East Timor administrators of UNTAET, TNI had also encouraged East Timorese refugees who were sheltering in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) to return to their homeland.

At least 1,000 refugees who had been staying in Belu, Kafamenanu, Soe and Kupang returned home on Sept. 14, he said.

Da Costa added that there would be another 1,000 refugees who would return to East Timor next month.

He said he recalled that during the registration period, most of the refugees who later decided to return to East Timor had earlier opted to stay in Indonesia.

The registration for refugees had been going on for several months and included the option for them to either return to East Timor or to choose Indonesian citizenship.

Da Costa said the TNI, UNHCR and IOM were briefing the refugees before allowing them to take the crucial decision of whether to return to East Timor or stay in Indonesia. (09)

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