Subject: AFP: Indonesia wants to ship refugees home before donors talks

Indonesia wants to ship refugees home before donors talks

JAKARTA, Oct 12 (AFP) - The Indonesian military has approached at least one international agency to help repatriate 620 East Timor refugees ahead of a crucial donors' meeting next week, an aid agency spokesman said.

Major General Kiki Syahnakrie has asked the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to help return 43 families by boat from Kupang, in West Timor, to Dili in East Timor between October 17 and 20.

The dates coincide with a crucial donors' meeting which opens on Tuesday in Tokyo, when Indonesia will ask donor nations within the Consultative Group on Indonesia (CGI) for 4.8 billion dollars in aid.

The United States and World Bank have warned aid could be jeopardised if Indonesia fails to disarm and disband the East Timorese militias operating in West Timor.

Aid agencies have said the militias, who fled to West Timor along with tens of thousands of others after the last year's independence vote in East Timor, are terrorising the refugees and hindering their repatriation.

The international community has called on Indonesia to deal with about 130,000 refugees still living in squalid camps in West Timor and nearby islands.

And it has stepped up pressure on Jakarta to disarm the militias after three UN staff were slain by militiamen in West Timor on September 6.

General Syahnakrie would ask the IOM and the UN Peacekeeping Force in East Timor to help the repatriation at talks in Bali on Thursday, IOM spokesman Chris Lom said.

"Kiki is trying to persuade us that it's important to send 43 families back quickly," Lom told AFP. "It's the main thing on the agenda."

Four hundred aid agency workers were evacuated from West Timor in the wake of the September 6 killings however, and Lom said ongoing security risks meant the general's request was likely to be turned.

"The IOM will only do it if it is given the go ahead," he said.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN Security Coordination Office would have to approve a return to West Timor, but so far all UN agencies have been restricted from returning to the province.

Lom said the refugees in question were the families of former low-ranking Indonesian soldiers.

"Those who feel they have nothing to fear from returning want to return as soon as they get the nod," Lom said.

The UNHCR's Jakarta office said they had received a verbal invitation to attend Thursday's meeting with Syahnakrie but declined because its two most senior representatives were out of the country.

The UN Peacekeeping Force in East Timor (UNPKF) confirmed its commander, Lieutenant General Boonsrang Niumpradit, would attend.

"This is a routine meeting held roughly every two months between the two commanders to discuss militia problems in West and East Timor and border-related issues," UNPKF spokesman Colonel Brynjar Nymo said.

But he told AFP by telephone from Dili the refugee repatriation was not on the official agenda.

More than 250,000 refugees were forced out of East Timor by the pro-Jakarta militias who rampaged through the territory after the people voted overwhelming for independence from Indonesia in a UN-sponsored ballot on August 30, 1999.


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