APSN Banner

Military skeptical that 95% Timorese to become Indonesian

Indonesian Observer - May 19, 2001

Jakarta – An Indonesian military leader yesterday in Kupang, West Nusa Tenggara (NTT), expressed doubt that 95% of the East Timorese refugees in East Nusa Tenggara would opt to stay.

I dont believe that 95% of the East Timorese refugees will opt to stay in Indonesia, said Major General Willem T da Costa, commander of the Bali-based Udayana regional military command which oversees NTT province.

Da Costa was commenting on a statement made by Filomeno de Jesus Hornay, a former militiaman and now head of the newly-formed group, the Union of Timor Aswain, a brotherhood of East Timorese in exile.

Filomeno predicted that 95% of the 50,000 remaining East Timorese refugees would opt to remain here as Indonesian citizens when the registration is held on June 6, 2001. According to Filomeno, the refugees would prefer to stay in Indonesia rather than be treated inhumanely if they return to East Timor, where he believes the security situation has not improved after two years under the United Nations supervision.

Filomeno has not been back to East Timor since he and his fellow militiamen were run off by the Australian army in September 1999, and does not in any way officially represent the refugees, East Timor, the UN or Indonesia.

How did he come to that conclusion? Has he carried out some kind of survey in the refugee camps? He should not have babbled. I dont like it, da Costa said. The military commander asserted that the prediction might be a form of provocation to pressure the refugees into making their option during the registration.

During the one-day registration, the refugees will be given only two options to choose from: return to East Timor, or stay in Indonesia as Indonesian citizens.

Da Costa pointed out that anyone trying to intimidate the refugees in making their choice would be dealt with firmly by the Indonesian Defense Forces (TNI). We (in TNI) are not going to tolerate anyone trying to obstruct the proper implementation of the registration, he said.

On the occasion, da Costa also accused the East Timorese elite of only discussing among them the interests of their political groups, but never paying any attention to the plight of East Timorese living in the refugee camps. Yet, they have always spoken on behalf of the refugees. In reality, have they ever helped feed the refugees? They speak and speak, but only about their group interests, he lashed out.

The parties are preparing for the election that will facilitate full independence for the territory, as the worlds newest nation, which was previously occupied by Portugal and later Indonesia.

The refugee issue has become a major international headache for Indonesia. A lot of pressure from governments, human rights groups, international donors and the UN has been applied at various times on the Indonesian government and military to handle the situation in a professional manner.

Many UN and human rights experts who have worked with the refugees accuse the military-backed militia of intimidating the refugees and oppressing them and controlling the camps.

The refugees themselves at one time numbered as many as 250,000 most of whom were forced at gunpoint to leave their homeland. Roughly 200,000 have returned over the last 18 months assisted by the UNHCR. UNHCRs work has been seriously hampered since September 2000, when 3 of its members were murdered while working with the refugees, and the subsequent evacuation of all staff. The six murderers were convicted earlier this month in a Jakarta court, and received sentences of between 10 and 20 months in jail.