|Subject: Multi-donor taskforce visits W.Timor camps,
Date: Sat, 25 Sep 1999 11:21:58 -0400
Indonesia urged to separate armed groups from civilian refugees
JAKARTA, Sept 24 (AFP) - A multi-donor taskforce on humanitarian aid Friday urged Indonesia to separate armed groups from civilians in refugee camps in West Timor and said most refugees interviewed wanted to return home.
"We urge improved security and separation of armed groups from civilian refugees," Julia Taft, US assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, told reporters.
The UN High Commission for Human Rights has expressed concern at the continuing reports of intimidation and disappearances affecting some of the refugee groups.
Taft, who is a member of a five-nation taskforce on humanitarian assistance to Timor, said during her visit to refugee camps in Kupang, West Timor "security concerns remains very volatile."
There are an estimated 200,000 refugees in West Timor following the violence launched by pro-Jakarta rebels after East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence on August 30. Many charge they were forcibly deported by the armed forces.
Taft said in their visit to the camps: "Almost all wished to return to their home areas in East Timor immediately," while others prefer to remain temporarily in West Timor or resettle elsewhere in Indonesia.
"The refugees must be given a free choice on their future," she said.
Taft said Indonesia was positive towards the idea of repatriation, adding the idea of a "reception center" to welcome the refugees back to East Timor could relieve the burden of authorities in West Timor.
"The imminent rains will lead to significant deterioration in conditions under which the refugees are sheltering and will endanger their health and well-being," she said.
Taft said Jakarta should create the necessary conditions for the refugees to make a decison without any fear, adding they should also have access to news about developments in East Timor.
Marika Fahlen, coordinator of the Swedish Humanitarian Assistance program said Indonesia would begin the repatriation exercise "shortly."
"Any efforts to permanently resettle the refugees would only occur in the couple of months," she said.
Fahlen said the International Committee for the Red Cross was the ideal body to carry out the interviews with the refugees. "The refugees and displaced people must be able to make a choice."
Mukesh Kapila, head of the conflict and humanitarian affairs department at the London-based non-governmental Department of International Development, said a "considerable amount of money is needed" to help in the repatriation program and to rebuild East Timor.
Some officials said the UN needs about 200 million dollars for relief work in East Timor for the next three to four months.
Taft said the mission representing Britain, Japan, Sweden, Thailand and the United States had impresed upon Indonesia the importance to ensure security for aid workers.
The mission had visited several locations in Kupang and Atambua in West Timor and Dili in East Timor.
"The concern of security is shared by all those who want to help refugees. Our mission is humanitarian," she added. The taskforce visited Jakarta, West Timor and East Timor from September 20 to 24.
Taft also said Indonesian authorities were willing to provide access for the UN's humanitarian efforts.
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