Subject: Leading West Timor aid worker slams refugee registration process

West Timor aid worker slams refugee registration process

WASHINGTON, June 12 (AFP) - A leading Timorese aid worker on Wednesday branded as a "sham" an Indonesian canvassing drive which found that 98 percent of East Timorese refugees confined to camps in West Timor did not want to go home.

Winston Neil Rondo, who works in camps in Kupang, claimed in an interview with AFP that Indonesian officials and militia leaders had connived to rig the results of the two-day referendum.

"It is a complete sham" Rondo said, claiming that pro-Jakarta militias which control the camps and are keen to discredit East Timor, had intimidated refugees into voting against a return, bribed them with food and money and encouraged groups of non-refugees to enter the ballot.

"There is no democratic process, because there is no free and safe atmosphere, (no) space for refugees to make their decision," he said in an interview before meeting US officials at the State Department.

The refugees were among around 250,000 people from East Timor who fled who were forced across the West Timor border when militia violence erupted after the territory voted for independence from Indonesia in August 1999.

International observers who monitored the registration of East Timorese refugees in West Timor said last week they saw no evidence of refugees being physically intimidated to get them to stay in the west of the island.

But officials from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), said in Geneva last week that one of the reasons why most people decided to stay was misinformation about East Timor by pro-Indonesian groups.

Some monitors have also argued that refugees feared a repeat of the militia violence when East Timor holds elections in August.

A provisional result released Wednesday of the exercise showed that 98.02 percent of 113,794 East Timor refugees stranded in Indonesia wanted to remain and not return home.

Rondo, general secretary of the Centre for Internally Displaced People's Services, said the results belied evidence he collected in two years in the camps.

Given a free choice, almost all of the refugees would chose to return home, he said.

col/mdl AFP

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