|Subject: 19,000 Refugees Returned To E
Timor From Jan-May: UN
Received from Joyo Indonesian News
UN Says 19,000 Refugees Returned To E Timor From Jan-May
DILI, East Timor, June 21 (AP)--About 19,000 East Timorese refugees have returned home in the first five months of this year, the U.N. said Friday.
This figure is more than the total number of returns for all of last year, said Jake Morland, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
The U.N. estimates that more than 30,000 East Timorese refugees remain in camps on the western, Indonesian-held side of the island.
Over 250,000 people fled or were forced by pro-Jakarta militias into West Timor following East Timor's vote for independence from Indonesia in August 1999.
An interim U.N. administration governed the country until last month, when the new nation gained full independence.
The world body has said that any refugees who choose to remain in West Timor after the end of 2002 will be considered Indonesian citizens.
Morland also noted that the U.N. was trying to organize a meeting between Joao Tavares, a prominent former militia commander, and East Timorese government officials.
The meeting, scheduled to take place in the border town of Batugade Tuesday, is aimed at persuading Tavares and 8,000 of his followers to return home.
The East Timorese parliament is currently considering legislation that would grant amnesties for former militiamen who committed minor crimes during the violence in 1999.
Closure of refugee camps in Kupang delayed
Yemris Fointuna, The Jakarta Post, Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara
The central government has relented a little in its approach toward East Timorese refugees by postponing the planned closure of refugee camps in East Nusa Tenggara province until December this year.
But the government has made it clear that there will not be any repatriation of refugees to the newly established Democratic Republic of East Timor after August.
Bowing to demands by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Indonesian government has agreed that refugees in Kupang will continue to receive aid until the new deadline passes.
"By Jan. 1, 2003 there will be no more refugees in the province," East Nusa Tenggara Deputy Governor Johanis Pake Pani told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.
The government decided early this year to close down all refugee camps in West Timor in August. However, as the deadline nears and the refugees continue to depend on the government for financial aid, the government has backed down.
However, Kupang social affairs office chief Stanis Tefa said on Tuesday that the extended deadline on the closure of the refugee camps did not mean that the government was extending the deadline for repatriation or monetary compensation for those opting to return to East Timor.
"We will tolerate those who want to stay as Indonesian citizens to use the camps until December, but in September the government will no longer repatriate people or pay compensation to the refugees," Stanis said.
Currently, the number of refugees in Kupang is about 54,000 people, from the approximately 250,000 who fled East Timor after its populace voted for independence in August 1999.
The Indonesian government, with the help of international donors, has provided refugees with daily financial support from the state budget since 1999.
The government has asked the refugees to decide whether to stay as Indonesian citizens or repatriate to East Timor.
East Timor became an independent state on May 20 this year and East Timorese leaders have been calling on refugees to return to their hometowns.
Stanis said that from September to December, it would be the responsibility of UNHCR and the International Organization on Migration (IOM) to facilitate the return of the refugees.
Kupang military regional commander Col. Moeswarno Moesanip revealed that the two international organizations would limit their assistance in providing transportation means to cross the border.
"The transportation services provided by the two organizations will only last until December," Moeswarno said.
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