Tue, 01 Aug 2000

Indonesia okays plan to close East Timor refugee camps

JAKARTA (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid has approved a plan to close shelters for East Timorese refugees in East Nusa Tenggara amid growing allegations that anti-independence activists were using the camps as a base to sneak into the former Indonesian province.

After meeting with the President at Bina Graha presidential office, Minister of Foreign Affairs Alwi Shihab said on Monday that if necessary the government would take harsh measures to accelerate the resettlement of refugees to other provinces or send them back home.

Alwi said he believed the international community would fully support the closure of refugee camps as it was in line with their demands on Indonesia.

"Until now we have used a persuasive approach. But if (new settlement areas) are ready, we will continue to be persuasive but also add some pressure," said Alwi.

Alwi did not elaborate when the camps, which shelter about 140,000 refugees, would be shut, saying the Cabinet would soon discuss the issue.

The minister added that he would also discuss the plan with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Aug. 19.

Alwi's explanation, however, contradicted a statement made by State Minister of Human Rights Hasballah M. Saad who said it was futile to send home refugees if there was no guarantee of the most basic rights, such as the right to food and security, or their life.

"It means that we just let them die from starvation," Hasballah said.

Meanwhile, Malaysia's permanent representative at the United Nations, Mohammad Kamal Yan Yahaya, said last week that the situation at refugee camps continued to worsen.

"We are especially disappointed because some small groups of bandits have launched campaigns to spread fear in the camps without any actions (being taken against them)," Antara quoted the diplomat as saying.

From Dili, AP reported the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) chief Sergio Vieira de Mello had issued an arrest warrant for a gang accused of killing peacekeeper New Zealand army Pvt. Leonard William Manning last week.

De Mello said he handed the names of 10 suspects to Udayana Military chief Maj. Gen. Kiki Syahnakri. (prb)