Subject: UN fears for East Timorese refugees who chose to go home

UN fears for East Timorese refugees who chose to go home

JAKARTA, July 10 (AFP) - UN officials in East Timor raised concern Tuesday about the fate of refugees who chose to be repatriated from squalid camps in Indonesia during an Indonesian-run census last month.

Interim results from the June 6 and 7 registration drive showed 1,250 East Timorese aged over 17 chose to go back home to East Timor, the chief United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) official in Dili, Bernard Kerblatt, told AFP.

However, only a few have since returned to East Timor, leaving UNHCR officials worried they could be vulnerable to intimidation by pro-Jakarta militia leaders controlling the camps in Indonesian-ruled West Timor.

"That was one month and three days ago," Kerblatt said of the census, speaking by phone from the East Timor capital.

Since then 666 refugees had been repatriated over the East Timor border with the assistance of Indonesian authorities, but their numbers included only a few of those who had formally requested repatriation.

"Where are these people, why aren't they coming?" Kerblatt said.

"What we're concerned about is these people (who requested repatriation) are out in the open, without any international protection in these camps, and more or less subject to intimidation.

"As you know in these camps there is no such thing as confidential."

Kerblatt said the 1,250 represented several thousand possible repatriations if their dependents were counted as well.

The UNHCR was pressing Indonesia "as a matter of emergency" for the early return of those who registered for repatriation.

"We hope through dialogue with the government of Indonesia that eventually they will assist these people," he said.

Provisional results released by Indonesian officials five days after the census showed that of 113,794 refugees who registered, 111,540 or 98 percent opted to remain in Indonesia.

The results were greeted with scepticism by the international community and rights groups, who pointed out the camps are still under militia control, leaving anyone who opts to return home open to reprisals.

One group of independent monitors reported that some of the refugees had opted to stay in Indonesia because they feared violence in upcoming August elections in their former homeland.

Other refugees said their children were in schools in West Timor and wanted to wait until conditions improved back home, where whole towns were razed by the militia in an orgy of violence.

The refugees are the remainder of more than 250,000 East Timorese who were herded from their homes and over the border by pro-Jakarta militias in the wake of the territory's August 1999 vote to break away from Indonesia.

Some 180,000 refugees have since returned home, according to UNHCR records.

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