Subject: AFP: Timorese "losing patience" with their own refugees: Ramos-Horta

Timorese "losing patience" with their own refugees, says Ramos-Horta

NUSA DUA, Indonesia, Feb 26 (AFP) - Tens of thousands of East Timorese refugees who are still reluctant to return are testing the patience of their compatriots back home, Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta has said.

An estimated 60,000 to 80,000 refugees remain in squalid camps in Indonesian West Timor, two and a half years after fleeing independence-related violence.

"Up to a year ago we were all criticising Indonesian authorities for not doing enough to help the refugees return," Horta said on the sidelines of Monday's high-level bilateral talks with Indonesia.

"A lot of opportunities have been given to the refugees, all kinds of incentives. Yet some still prefer to stay in camps.

"If they want to stay, then stay and accept the resettlement offers of the Indonesian government. If they want to return, return to East Timor and start the next phase of their lives."

In 1999 an estimated 250,000-270,000 people either fled or were forced over the border at the hands of marauding anti-independence militiamen, enraged at East Timor's vote to secede from Indonesia in August 1999.

Almost 200,000 have since returned home.

Many of the returnees have reported intimidation and disinformation campaigns by anti-independence militia thugs, who are believed to be using the refugees as pawns in their negotiations for amnesties from prosecution in East Timor.

Of those who remain, some are waiting for pension payments from the Indonesian government or security forces, some say they are fearful of revenge attacks in East Timor for supporting Indonesian rule, others say they are nervous of general insecurity in their shattered homeland.

The UN refugee agency last month said economic factors and not intimidation are now the main reason why many are reluctant to go home.

Cash-strapped Indonesia is keen to be rid of the refugees and has halted its aid to them from this year. It has offered them citizenship if they choose to stay.

Ramos Horta said he supports Indonesian efforts to close the camps.

The Nobel peace laureate accused an unspecified number of abusing aid packages offered to the refugees on their return, by posing as returnees several times over.

"There are some who travel to East Timor, then go back to the (West Timor) camps, then come back to East Timor, two or three times, using the benefits for refugees," he said.

"Our own people in East Timor are losing patience, because everybody talks about the refugees, how they're supposed to get special treatment, get shelter, get food, money.

"Then how about those people who are in East Timor? We're losing patience."


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