Thu, 30 Nov 2000

East Timor refugees to choose their countries

JAKARTA (JP): Some 134,000 East Timor refugees residing in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) province will have to decide whether to stay or leave the country in a one-day registration slated for Dec. 13, officials said on Wednesday.

"The registration will be done at all refugee camps in the province's 14 regencies. Most of the camps have been notified and we're in the process of finalizing the forms," chief of the task force for the Settlement of East Timorese Refugees in NTT, Basyiruddin Yusuf, said.

The task force comprises representatives of the country's 16 ministries and related agencies.

Among the 132,000 refugees are 20,000 civil servants, he said.

"We need to sort them out and begin arrangements to rehabilitate their lives," he said.

Three days before the registration there will be a new map of the refugees location and they have to stay there to avoid multiple counting, he said.

Refugees must provide information about family, occupation, original regency and current domicile as well as choosing whether to stay or leave Indonesia.

"Hopefully, the registration will take place on time. If not, we'll probably conduct the registration after Idul Fitri.

"The registration will take place one day only in a bid to obtain accurate counting. If the refugees move around, we'll never get factual data," Basyiruddin said.

The registration process will involve some 1,600 officials, each expected to gather data from 20 families.

"Volunteers may join the effort as long as they are willing to do it honestly and with no political motives behind their participation," he said.

He said the government was committed to solving the problem of internally displaced people from East Timor in a proper manner.

"The choice is theirs, whether they want to stay or leave. Up to this moment we have treated all refugees in NTT as Indonesian citizens. Since Oct. 17, a total of 2,342 refugees have left NTT for East Timor," he added.

The task force is preparing to help refugees who want to return to East Timor through 14 available crossings in the border, secretary of the task force Lt. Col. Suwandi Mihardja said.

"Troops and officials will assist them to the crossings and make sure they get safely across," Suwandi said.

The 14 crossings are in Oeoli, Oeolo, Haumeneana, Wini, Napan, Mota Ain, Turiscain, Atambua, Labour Alas, Metamauk, Laktutus, Lakmars, Haekesak and Builalo.

"This registration will help speed up the social and economic recovery for these people and also further political resolution in East Timor," Basyiruddin said.

The officer, however, said that the areas most prone to trouble, that need careful handling, are those located in West Timor, namely the regencies of Belu, Kupang, Kupang mayoralty, Timor Tengah Selatan and Timor Tengah Utara.

"But so far the situation is under control. We have to raise the people's spirits to start their lives again," he said.

Basyiruddin called for Dili Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo and Ramos Horta to facilitate reconciliation between East Timorese ahead of the festive season.

"They are both Nobel price winners ... and actively promoted East Timor independence. So they must be responsible for the reconciliation effort and show good will to accept and protect their brothers and sisters back home from NTT," he said.

Suwandi said that those who wish to visit their families ahead of the festive season of Christmas, Idul Fitri and New Year were allowed to cross the border.

"So far, 200 people have registered to go to East Timor ... we'll accommodate them and coordinate with the UN peacekeeping force.

"It's good if they want to stay there permanently, but if not they can return to NTT," Suwandi said.

As of November there were a total of five Army battalions in NTT and a company of Marines soon will be stationed to guard the border from Wini to Mota Ain, he added. (edt)