Subject: AFP: Militia members welcomed to return: East Timor

Militia members welcomed to return: East Timor

AFP [ SATURDAY, JUNE 15, 2002 8:24:13 AM ]

OSLO: East Timorese Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta said on Friday the doors of his newly-independent country were open to pro-Jakarta militia members, now living in exile in Indonesia.

"There are no talks as such for the return of the militiamen," Horta told journalists while visiting Oslo.

"(But) we have been working in the last two years with the United Nations and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for the speedy repatriation of remaining refugees who wish to return, including some militia leaders."

Horta's comments follow talks on Friday between the former head of a pro-Jakarta militia group and East Timorese officials about a possible return home from exile in Indonesia with thousands of his followers.

Joao da Silva Tavares, who has said he wants to return soon from Indonesian West Timor with some 3,000 followers, held a reconciliation meeting with representatives of newly independent East Timor.

Tavares previously headed the Integration Fighters' Force, an umbrella group for the militias which terrorised independence supporters in the then-Indonesian province of East Timor in 1999.

When asked about Tavares, Horta said, "the doors obviously are open for him to return.

"If he wishes to return, obviously on our side we should welcome him. Those involved in violence, they know they have to face justice in East Timor but they can be assured that justice in East Timor is not revenge. It's not exercised by the political power."

Horta said he did not know if Tavares was directly involved in directing or ordering the violence in East Timor.

The militiamen, backed by Indonesian military elements, waged a campaign of intimidation before East Timor's August 1999 independence vote and a violent revenge campaign afterwards.

The violence left hundreds killed and more than 250,000 East Timorese either fled or were forced across the border into West Timor.

UNHCR officials said 210,000 people had since returned but that many of those still in West Timor were either former militiamen, their families or people previously employed by the Indonesian authorities who feared loss of pension rights.

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