Subject: Indonesia, Interfet sign agreement to speed return of refugees

Indonesia, Interfet sign agreement to speed return of refugees

MOTAAIN, Indonesia, Nov 22 (AFP) - Indonesian security authorities and the International Force for East Timor (Interfet) on Monday signed an agreement to accelerate the repatriation of refugees from camps in West Timor.

"I am delighted to say an agreement has been reached," said Interfet commander Major General Peter Cosgrove emerging from one hour talks with Indonesian military authorities in an army tent in this border town.

The Indonesian signatory was Major General Adam Damiri who heads the Indonesian military command overseeing West Timor.

US ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke, who took part in the talks and witnessed the signing, said the agreement was a new border commission agreement which would keep the border open for the return of refugees and accelerate the emptying of the refugee camps in West Timor.

Under the agreement those refugees wanting to go home would be repatriated while those wanting to stay would be reintegrated into Indonesian society.

"I am profoundly moved by what has happened here today (Monday) ... the proof on whether it is historic or not will depend on the implementation," Holbrooke said.

About 230,000 people out of the 260,000 who fled or were deported are still sheltering in West Timor camps after violence erupted following East Timor's overwhelming vote for independence in a UN-held ballot.

Military-backed militias went on an unchecked rampage across East Timor after the results were announced in early September that destroyed many towns and forced half the territory's 800,000 people to flee.

Their return has been hampered by militia violence and the intimidation of those trying to return while they are in West Timor, relief officials have said.

Holbrooke, who visited a refugee camp in Atambua, some 15 kilometres (nine miles) south, said refugees in West Timor camps were being fed disinformation by the militias to discourage them from returning home.

"People are being told absolute lies by the militias, they are told that Australian troops are raping women, the refugees have been told that the fighting is still going on," Holbrooke said.

"There is a tremendous disinformation going on, and then there is physical intimidation."

Holbrooke who was accompanied by a delegation which included US Assistant State Secretary for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Stanley Roth, went by land to Batugade where they took a US helicopter to fly to Dili.

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