Subject: Feared former militia boss visits E. Timor to discuss exile return

Agence France Presse 
July 7, 2002

Feared former militia boss visits E. Timor to discuss exile return

DILI, A feared pro-Indonesian militia leader visited East Timor on the weekend for what officials described as postive discussions about his return from exile with thousands of his followers and other refugees.

Joao da Silva Tavares, who headed an umbrella group for the pro-Jakarta militias that terrorized independence supporters in the then-Indonesian province in 1999, met with East Timorese legislators and officials on Saturday.

Tavares says at least 35,000 East Timorese living in Indonesian West Timor, including him, want to return to their homeland after fleeing following the violence.

However, many of the refugees did not necessarily support Tavares or his umbrella group, the Integration Fighters' Force (PPI).

Militias and their families fled to Indonesian-controlled West Timor after UN-sanctioned peacekeeping forces landed in September 1999 to restore order there. Other East Timorese fled to West Timor to escape the violence.

Tavares is trying to negotiate with East Timorese officials to ensure the returnees' transition is as smooth as possible.

Fretilin faction leader in the East Timorese parliament, Jacob Fernandes said Saturday's meeting, the third in a month, had made progress on the issue of the returnees.

"There was a step forward," Fernandes said after the meeting, which was held at the border town of Batugade.

Fernandes said Tavares had insisted at the first two meetings that the returnees live initially in transit camps in one district of East Timor.

He said such transit camps would enable the families of refugees already in East Timor to take their relatives home and assure that the security conditions at their home villages could allow such a peaceful return.

"But now he has agreed that the (transit camps) will be in each of the 13 districts of East Timor," Fernandes said.

More than 250,000 East Timorese either fled or were forced by militias across the border into West Timor when Indonesia pulled out of the territory in 1999.

The UN High Commisioner for Refugees says fewer than 50,000 refugees are still in Indonesia, of whom 30,000-35,000 are expected to choose to return.

Meanwhile East Timorese Attorney General Longuinhos Monteiro, who attended the meeting, warned those who were responsible for the violence in 1999 and throughout Indonesia's 24-year rule of East Timor would eventually face justice.

"The legal process will continue and those guilty will still have to face the court," Monteiro said.

Tavares has so far avoided punishment and was not one of the 18 people facing charges for gross human rights violation in East Timor in 1999.

Although he headed the PPI, the day-to-day run of the organisation was in the hands of his deputy, Eurico Guterres, who is facing charges.

In his defence plea at a hearing of the Indonesian ad hoc court on human rights last week, Guterres said it should have been Tavares and not him standing at the dock.


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