Subject: Indon authorities bust E.Timorese child refugee trafficking

The Jakarta Post June 27, 2002

Authorities bust child refugee trafficking

Yemris Fointuna, The Jakarta Post, Kupang

Local security authorities have broken up a network that allegedly trafficked dozens of East Timorese toddlers over the last year.

The head of the Wirasakti Militry Command in East Nusa Tenggara, Col. Muswarno Moesanip, said on Wednesday that most of the children were taken from refugee camps in the province and sent to orphanages in Java.

The colonel said that since August 2001, about 150 children had been sent to separate orphanages in Central Java.

The children were sent to the orphanages by the Hati Foundation, allegedly led by a student named Octavio Soares, who is currently registered at a university in Yogyakarta, Moesanip said.

"He lured the parents with promises that their children would be sent to schools in Java, and asked them to sign letters of agreement," he said.

However, the children were sent to orphanages and Octavio allegedly used the letters of agreement to request financial support for the children from donor agencies.

"He hid behind the foundation, making it difficult for us to unravel the case," Moesanip said.

The issue of child trafficking was raised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR) during a recent meeting. The UN body said it had received reports that children in the refugee camps were being held in hostage-like situations.

The violent separation of East Timor from Indonesia left about 250,000 people from the former Indonesian province as refugees, many of whom would like to return to their hometowns.

However, some of these refugees reported that their children had been taken to Java, and the parents refused to return to East Timor without their children.

The Indonesian government has been looking into the matter, and was finally able allegedly to link the missing children to Octavio, a onetime prointegration fighter.

"We plan to return 10 children to their parents tomorrow (Thursday) from an orphanage in Semarang, Central Java. The TNI (Indonesian Military) will accompany the children," Moesanip said.

He said the orphanage had requested protection from the military because the traffickers had intercepted the children several times and sent them back to different orphanages.

"The children were forced off the bus that was supposed to take them back to Kupang, and the traffickers took the children to a different orphanage," Moesanip said, quoting a report from the orphanage.

He said the Hati Foundation sent the children to the Saint Thomas Orphanage in Semarang and the Saint Mary Orphanage in Yogyakarta.

Suspicions of child trafficking began in September 2001, when the UNHCR attempted to locate the children and return them to East Timor. However, the foundation claimed it had no knowledge of the children.

The Indonesian government, after evaluating the case, decided to assist the UNHCR in returning the children to their parents.

"The children missed their parents, and I have met some of the parents who said that they had given up their children because they were intimidated by prointegration leaders," Moesanip said.

The commander also vowed that the military would continue to investigate the case, which allegedly involves more prointegration leaders in the refugee camps.

"This is a serious humanitarian problem and we will work hard to solve the case immediately," he said.

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