Subject: AFP: UN refugee agency to return 16 children to East Timor

Source: Agence France-Presse (AFP) Date: 27 Jun 2002

UN refugee agency to return 16 children to East Timor

JAKARTA, June 27 (AFP) - A group of sixteen East Timorese children who were separated from their parents in the chaos following the August 1999 independence vote will be returned to their parents Friday, a UN refugee agency official said.

The 16 are currently in orphanages in Indonesia's South Kalimantan, Central Java and West Timor districts.

It will be the second UN-organised repatriation of such children following the return of eight in September 2001, the official from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees saud Thursday.

"Most of my staff are still working in the field and barring any last minute changes, 16 children will be reunited with their parents in East Timor," the official, who declined to be identified, told AFP.

She said none of the 16 came from the controversial Hati (Heart) Foundation, a Java-based group whose leader, Octavio Soares, took some 150 East Timorese children from refugee camps in Indonesian West Timor and placed them in Indonesian orphanages.

Soares, a pro-Jakarta East Timorese, said he obtained the parents' consent and denied his foundation had done anything illegal.

"I am only responsible to the parents who have trusted their children to my care," he told AFP.

Some commentators have said the apparent aim of giving the children an Indonesian education is to nurture support for a return of Indonesian rule over East Timor.

The country was invaded by Jakarta in 1975, came under United Nations control in October 1999 and became independent on May 20.

More than 250,000 East Timorese either fled voluntarily or were forced across the border into West Timor after pro-Jakarta militia -- backed by military elements -- waged a revenge campaign after the vote to separate from Indonesia.

In a January report the United Nations said that between 1,200 and 2,000 children had been kidnapped in East Timor and were being held in different parts of Indonesia.

The report said many of the children had been "taken from their parents or guardians in the (refugee) camps under duress".

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