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Timor: Indonesian government's positive move

Briefing notes

Timor: Indonesian government's positive move

28 April 2000

Indonesian officials have urged East Timorese enlisted in the Indonesian army, or TNI, to join the government's domestic resettlement programme or resign their commission. This is a positive move. It comes at a time when the number of returnees from West Timor to East Timor has dropped sharply in recent weeks. Forms have been distributed by the government in the camps in West Timor for an estimated 2,000 East Timorese military men to sign. They are being asked if they wish to leave camps in West Timor and join the government's transmigration programme to other parts of Indonesia. If they choose to stay in West Timor, they must resign from the army.

UNHCR has been urging the Indonesian government to separate East Timorese TNIs and former militias in the camps to eliminate intimidation and accelerate returns. UNHCR believes that about 50,000 of the refugees remaining in West Timor would return to East Timor if they were free of intimidation. Although security and access in the camps have improved, pro-Indonesian elements remain in control and are opposing repatriation through misinformation and intimidation.

One example of that was on Tuesday, when some 200 pro-Indonesian East Timorese staged a protest at a compound in Kupang where representatives of UNHCR and other UN agencies, NGOs and the government were holding a meeting on relief aid to East Timorese refugees. They carried placards and shouted slogans critical of UN activities in West Timor and the political situation in East Timor. UNHCR talked to their leaders and the group later dispersed peacefully.

Small groups of East Timorese TNIs have been demobilized and have returned to East Timor, but this is the first time that they are being asked to make a decision on their long-term future. The distribution of the forms has started at the Tuapukan and Noelbaki camps - the largest of some 200 refugee settlements in West Timor hosting more than 100,000 East Timorese.

More than 160,000 East Timorese have returned to East Timor since October. But only 50 East Timorese joined a UNHCR-IOM repatriation convoy today from the border town of Atambua.