Fri, 17 Nov 2000

It's 'difficult' for relief workers to go back to W. Timor: UN

JAKARTA (JP): A visiting UN Security Council mission said here on Thursday the security situation on the Indonesian side of the Timor border remained volatile, making it "difficult" to resume aid operations there.

"I am sure you know the circumstances that prompted the withdrawal of the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) from West Timor ... until or unless those conditions are fully addressed, it will be difficult for UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies to return to West Timor," the Namibian ambassador to the UN Security Council, Martin Andjaba, said during a media conference.

When pressed to elaborate on the conditions that had not been fully redressed, Andjaba said: "Security, of course ... you know the murder of three UN personnel."

Andjaba, who is leading the seven-member UN delegation, was speaking after a 90-minute meeting with top Indonesian politicians and security ministers.

The delegation is on a five-day visit to East Timor, East Nusa Tenggara and Jakarta to assess whether the UN Security Council resolution calling on the Indonesian government to disarm and disband prointegration militias in West Timor has been implemented.

The resolution was issued following the murder of three UN relief workers in the West Timor border town of Atambua on Sept. 6.

The murder of the UN workers sparked international outrage and resulted in the exodus of some 400 foreign aid personnel who were working with about 130,000 East Timorese refugees in East Nusa Tenggara.

Some 250,000 East Timorese fled to the Indonesian province following the violence that erupted after the 1999 self- determination referendum in the former Indonesian province.

Andjaba, however, refused to comment on whether Jakarta had fully complied with the UN resolution, saying his "discussions and exchanges of views" on the issue with Indonesian officials were not yet fully over.

"We have not yet come to the end of the briefings ... but of course in West Timor yesterday, we were able to see for ourselves the situation on the ground.

"We were briefed about the steps the Indonesian government has taken in addressing the refugee issue and in implementing resolution 1319 as a whole .... I will continue with our discussions today (Thursday) and tomorrow, so I cannot give you a final answer on that," Andjaba said.

The delegation met with Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri earlier in the day, and was scheduled to meet with House of Representatives Speaker Akbar Tandjung and members of the National Commission on Human Rights on Thursday evening.

The UN delegation is scheduled to meet with Attorney General Marzuki Darusman, Minister of Foreign Affairs Alwi Shihab and possibly President Abdurrahman Wahid on Friday.

Coordinating Minister for Political, Social and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said during the same media conference Jakarta had taken "all necessary measures" to improve security in West Timor.

"We told the delegation that with the deployment of reinforcement troops and police, the situation has returned to normal, even much better than before the Atambua incident," Susilo said.

"So, it is up to the UN Security Council to reconsider (the return) of UNHCR to West Timor," he said, adding that "the Indonesian government has the responsibility to protect and provide security guarantees for all UN workers in the area".

Susilo admitted the presence of UNHCR personnel in East Nusa Tenggara was desperately needed to speed up the repatriation of East Timorese refugees.

"We honestly believe that the situation in East Nusa Tenggara has returned to normal ... therefore we appeal to the UN relief workers to resume their operations there, because without the UNHCR, the registration and repatriation cannot be properly conducted," Susilo said.

He said that during his meeting with the UN delegation, the government was asked to draft "a mechanism for a common assessment of the security situation" in West Timor. (byg)