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Friday, 8 June, 2001, 14:21 GMT 15:21 UK
Timor refugees 'choose to stay on'
East Timor refugees wait to register their intentions
There is criticism that refugees have been intimidated
By Richard Galpin in Jakarta

Preliminary results from the registration of tens of thousands of East Timorese refugees indicate that the overwhelming majority wish to stay in Indonesia rather than be repatriated.

Local government officials say almost 98% of the people counted so far wished to settle permanently in Indonesia.

Pro-Indonesian militiamen
Militiamen still wield considerable power over refugees
Out of more than 90,000 refugees now registered, only around 2,000 have opted to return to their homes in East Timor - far less than expected.

These are unofficial results and it may be more than a week before the full count is completed and made public.

But United Nations refugee officials say they do not believe this reflects people's true preference.

'No free choice'

Although officials say the registration was well organised and security was good, there is concern that, in reality, the refugees were not able to make a free choice.

The pro-Jakarta militia gangs, responsible for much of the violence which surrounded East Timor's independence vote two years ago, continue to be a powerful presence in the camps in West Timor.


After the vote in August 1999, they forced many of the refugees to leave their homes. With the help of Indonesian troops, they moved them across the border where they have been living ever since.

It is not in the militias' interests to allow the refugees to return to East Timor.

Only around 12 international observers monitored the registration process carried out by the Indonesian authorities this week.

Although they say there was no overt intimidation, there are reports that people associated with the militias were present in some of the registration booths.

The international community had earlier expressed concern about the possibility of intimidation by pro-Indonesia militia gangs which still control many of the refugee camps in West Timor.

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See also:

06 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
East Timor refugees delayed
29 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Gusmao quits presidential race
17 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
US promises East Timor support
30 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
East Timor marks year of freedom
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