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Timor refugees remain unaided

Refugees
Doubts remain on how many refugees genuinely wish to remain in Indonesia  


By CNN's Grant Holloway

DILI, East Timor (CNN) -- Tens of thousands of East Timorese living in refugee camps in Indonesian West Timor remain without international aid despite a UN probe into the safety of the region.

The UN mission to West Timor, which began in early July, has yet to release its report, with some suggesting it may have been delayed because of the recent political upheaval in Jakarta.

The UN will not return aid workers to the region until the Indonesian government can assure it that army-backed militias are being disbanded and a credible level of safety exists.

"Until now we haven't received any official response," a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Jakarta, Kamala Ahwil, said.

"We are hoping maybe next week, or the following week," she said.

The security situation on the East Timor-West Timor border undoubtedly remains tense ahead of East Timor's first elections due to be held at the end of this month.

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Most recently, an Indonesian soldier dressed in civilian clothing was killed by UN peacekeepers last weekend after he opened fire on a border patrol.

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The Indonesian army has subsequently accepted responsibility for that incident.

More than 400 UN agency and international aid workers were withdrawn from West Timor in September last year after three workers were slain by militiamen in the border town of Atambua.

Despite the dangers, UN senior program officer Richard Hall told CNN that the repatriation and resettlement of refugees who wished to return to East Timor was continuing despite the ban on aid work in the camps.

The Indonesian Government in June conducted a register of the refugees with the vast majority indicating they wished to remain in West Timor.

However the camps are largely controlled by the Indonesian army backed militias who wrought havoc and bloodshed throughout East Timor after the region voted for independence from Indonesia in August 1999.

Many independent groups, including UN officials, believe the militias have terrorized the refugees into choosing to stay in Indonesia.

The Indonesian Government has said it will relocate the refugees onto other islands of Indonesia as West Timor was unable to support them.






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