Indonesia Denies Inflating Timor Refugee Figures
Indonesian Defense Minister Mohammad Mahfud Tuesday denied accusations by East Timorese leader Jose Ramos-Horta that Jakarta had inflated the numbers of refugees in West Timor.
"We have registered the refugees several times and there were indeed discrepancies. But they are not significant and cannot be considered a data manipulation," Mahfud told journalists.
Ramos-Horta, who is foreign minister in the East Timor's transitional administration, said on Sunday that the number of East Timorese refugees still in Indonesian-ruled West Timor was only half the widely accepted figure of 130,000.
"The actual figure of the refugees we believe is no more than 60,000," he told journalists in Dili.
An official in West Timor's provincial government told AFP in September there were officially just over 129,000 refugees listed in camps in West Timor and on neighboring Flores island.
Horta said that after long being skeptical of that figure, there was now "ample evidence" to prove his view that it was inflated.
Mahfud also denied that authorities had extorted money from the refugees.
Thousands of East Timorese were forced over the border into the Indonesian half of Timor island during a wave of violence and destruction by Jakarta-backed anti-independence militias after the territory's vote for independence last year.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates about 180,000 have since returned home.
The former Portuguese colony is now under UN administration in its transition towards full independence.
Indonesia's senior security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has pledged the process of re-registering the refugees would be under way by the time a visiting UN Security Council team visits West Timor this week.
A 47-member Indonesian taskforce has been in West Timor since mid-October to prepare for refugee registration -- in which those still in the camps opt either to return home or remain in Indonesia.
The seven-member UN Security Council delegation, on a six-day visit to East Timor and Indonesia, will travel to the provincial capital Kupang on Tuesday and the border town of Atambua on Wednesday.
Mahfud said Indonesian authorities would meet the delegation on Thursday to compare data on the refugees – JAKARTA (AFP)
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