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Indonesia postpones registration of East Timorese refugees


JAKARTA, Dec 23 (AFP) - The Indonesian government has postponed the registration of some 100,000 East Timorese refugees still languishing in squalid camps in Indonesian West Timor, the state Antara news agency said Saturday.

"The government has to discuss the registration of the refugees with the UN so that all parties would accept the result of the registration process," East Nusa Tenggara province Vice Governor Johanis Pake Pani was quoted as saying.

The registration -- designed to determine which refugees want to return and which want to stay in Indonesia -- had been scheduled to be completed this month.

Pani said the provincial administration had asked Jakarta to urge UN agencies, whose personnel fled West Timor in the wake of the militia killing of three aid workers in September, to return to the province.

The vice governor said he hoped the registration would be completed by January 2001 at the latest so that the government could begin working on resettlement of those who wanted to stay in Indonesia.

Some 300,000 East Timorese fled or were pushed out of East Timor in September of last year when Indonesian military-trained militia went on a rampage in the wake of the territory's vote for independence from Indonesia.

The militia followed the refugees into West Timor when an international force arrived to halt the rampage, and aid workers say they now hold many of the refugees virtual hostage.

Despite the intimidation, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Friday that almost 50,000 East Timorese refugees have returned home this year, bringing to 174,000 the number who have gone back since October last year.

UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said in Geneva that about 3,200 returned home in the last four months under their own steam after aid workers withdrew from West Timor when the three UNHCR staff were murdered.

Redmond said 350 refugee representatives had arrived in East Timor Friday from Kupang, the capital of West Timor, on a three-week visit to see if it is safe enough for others to return home.

The trip has been organised by the UN administration in East Timor with help from UNHCR.

The visits are expected to help boost the numbers going back to East Timor, Redmond said, adding UNHCR has also stepped up efforts to counter misinformation circulating in West Timor refugee camps about conditions in East Timor.

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