Subject: SMH: Pressure on Jakarta over E. Timorese children

Sydney Morning Herald August 29, 2001

Pressure on Jakarta over children

Dili: The United Nations is seeking an urgent meeting with senior Indonesian ministers to press authorities in Jakarta to reunite Timorese children taken from West Timor camps in 1999 with their parents.

The UN administrator in East Timor, Mr Sergio Vieira de Mello, said yesterday that the UN had repeatedly raised the return of the children with Indonesian officials in recent weeks.

"Their families want these children back. I have no doubt the Indonesian Government wants them to go back too."

Pro-Indonesia Timorese took 130 East Timorese children from their parents and left them at orphanages in Java. Humanitarian workers and church officials suspect that pro-Jakarta Timorese activists want to use the children in a campaign for East Timor eventually to become part of Indonesia.

One of the activists, Mr Octavio Soares, snatched 12 of the children in August as UN officials were taking them to the airport to be flown to East Timor and reunited with their parents.

Mr de Mello said he had raised the plight of the children with Indonesia's new Foreign Minister, Mr Hassan Wirajuda, when they met in Hanoi a month ago.

The Indonesia Government had promised to allow the first group of children to be returned, he said, but the arrangements were "sabotaged" by a person who managed them. He was apparently referring to Mr Soares.

"As you may recall, Indonesia was in political turmoil," Mr de Mello said. It was difficult to expect Indonesian officials to intervene rapidly.

Humanitarian workers in Indonesia believe that up to 1,000 Timorese children were separated from their parents in 1999, and fear they may be working in sweatshops, plantations or as prostitutes in Indonesia.

Lindsay Murdoch

Sydney Morning Herald
Monday, August 27, 2001

Dili will ask UN to help bring children home

By Lindsay Murdoch, Herald Correspondent in Jakarta

East Timor's leaders are planning an international campaign to pressure the Indonesian Government to allow Timorese children separated from their parents at the height of mayhem in East Timor to be reunited with their parents.

The Cabinet member for foreign affairs, Mr Jose Ramos Horta, yesterday described Indonesia's handling of the children's plight as shocking and outrageous, and promised to raise the case in the United Nations Security Council, which he is to address in October.

The interim UN-administered government in East Timor has also asked the independence leader Mr Xanana Gusmao to raise the situation at an international summit on children in New York next month.

"It will be enormously embarrassing for Indonesia, particularly those in authority who do not seem to be willing to have this case resolved," Mr Ramos Horta said.

"We plan to raise it in every international forum. This is a crime. The new government, the new president [Megawati Sukarnoputri] cannot allow this to take place."

The Herald revealed last October that pro-Indonesian Timorese activists had separated 130 East Timorese children from their parents living in refugee camps in Indonesian West Timor and had left the children with poor Catholic orphanages in Central Java.

In June this year one of the most prominent of the activists, Dr Octavio Soares, brought another 46 Timorese children from West Timor to Java, where he says he will supervise their education.

Humanitarian workers and church officials suspect the activists want to indoctrinate the children to get them to push for East Timor's reintegration with Indonesia.

Dr Soares has refused to allow the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to reunite the children with 16 sets of parents who are demanding them back after returning to their villages in East Timor. He has threatened to kill UN officials if they try to take the children home without his consent. Last month he snatched 12 of the children from Catholic nuns as they were about to be taken to the airport to be flown to East Timor by UN officials.

The Herald has learnt that a high-ranking official of Indonesia's Department of Foreign Affairs called on Dr Soares two weeks ago and told him to allow the children to be reunited with their parents if that was what the parents wanted.

Mr Chalief Akbar, the head of political and information affairs at the Indonesian Consulate in East Timor, told a Dili newspaper this month that the children had been unable to return to their parents because of an argument between the UNHCR and the Hati Foundation.

Dr Soares runs the foundation, set up in the early 1990s to support Timorese partisans who helped Indonesian forces invade East Timor in 1975.

Mr Akbar said Indonesia would "work towards the best solution". But he was also quoted as saying the foundation was "exploring another transfer of 500 children to other locations in Indonesia".

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