Tue, 15 Aug 2000

RI sets time frame for refugee camp closure

JAKARTA (JP): Minister of Foreign Affairs Alwi Shihab said on Monday that East Timorese refugee camps in West Timor would be closed within three to six months.

However, he called on the international community to help resettle the some 100,000 people who have been living in the camps since last year.

"The Indonesian government has decided to set up a task force consisting of officials from a number of ministries and representatives of the Indonesian Military (TNI) and police to carry out 'a comprehensive plan of action' that will resolve the refugee problem once and for all," Alwi said after a closed-door meeting discussing the issue at the foreign ministry.

"The timetable is around three to six months, but this depends very much on many aspects," he said.

Present at the meeting were Minister of Defense Juwono Sudarsono, Minister of Settlement and Territorial Development Erna Witoelar, chief of Udayana Military Command overseeing Bali, East and West Nusa Tenggara and West Timor Maj. Gen. Kiki Syahnakri and former foreign minister Ali Alatas.

Alwi said the success of the program "depended on many aspects, including the readiness of both UNTAET ... to provide security and provisions needed for the return of the refugees and the refugees themselves".

The UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) is charged with supervising East Timor's transition to full independence after the territory's vote for independence from Indonesia last year.

Alwi appealed to the international community and donor countries to provide financial assistance for the program.

"There are obstacles to assistance given to Indonesia. Maybe because of the perception of the international community that Indonesia is responsible for the slow and sluggish return of those who want to return to East Timor," he said.

"Actually that is not the case."

He said Indonesia was determined to get the militias, who have been blamed for intimidating and obstructing the refugee repatriation program, out of the camps.

"This is part of the problem. The international community has accused the TNI of being to blame for this kind of intimidation but there are actually other factors," he said.

A gang of militiamen has been accused of killing a New Zealand member of the UN peacekeeping force in East Timor, Pvt. Leonard William Manning, in the rugged town of Fato Mean, just two kilometers away from the Indonesian border in East Nusa Tenggara, on July 24, 2000.

Alwi said the other factors included political differences between prointegration and proindependence East Timorese and bitterness over the result of last year's ballot in which East Timorese voted overwhelmingly to break away from Indonesia.

Some 170,000 East Timorese have returned home since they fled last year's violence. (byg)