Timor refugees want to stay in Indonesia


JAKARTA, AFP

More than 95 percent of the East Timorese refugees stranded in West Timor are afraid or unwilling to return home yet and want to stay in Indonesia, early results of a registration drive showed Friday.

Unofficial monitors of the process said many of the refugees, traumatized by the savage militia violence that drove them from the country in 1999, feared the upcoming polls to be held there in August.

Others, either members of the militias or related to militiamen, feared reprisals if they returned, while many also saw safety in Indonesian government handouts, the state Antara news agency said.

The results of the two-day exercise issued by the registration committee late on Friday afternoon in Kupang, the main town in West Timor, showed that 97.65 percent, or 92,476 of the 94,692 people counted so far, wanted to remain in Indonesia.

Only a paltry 1,453 refugees, or 1.5 percent, wanted to return to East Timor, while 763 made no choice, said Usman Abu Bakar, head of the committee’s media center.

Abu Bakar said all 14 districts in the province had submitted the results of their vote counting to the committee but that the final results had yet to be determined. “But we can say the percentages reflect the final results. The final figures will not be much different,” he told AFP. Abu Bakar earlier in the day said discrepancies in the number of refugees choosing to return, which on Thursday night had stood at 4,259, were due to miscounting in Belu district, where most refugees are camped.

The head of the West Timor-based Jesuit Refugee Service, Father Edi Mulyono, said his 22 staff, who informally monitored registration booths, found many people voting several times.

“At many booths there was no system of marking people to show that they had already voted, so people were voting several times over,” he said.

“Some booths stamped people, but the stamps washed off very easily.”

Mulyono said many had voted to stay in Indonesia even though they wanted to return to East Timor, because they were scared of possible violence during the August 30 polls.