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Indonesia extends deadline for refugee returns to East Timor

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The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today announced that the Indonesian government has given East Timorese refugees in West Timor more time to decide whether to remain in Indonesia or repatriate to East Timor.
In an indication from the Indonesian Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare and Poverty, Basri Hasanuddin, UNHCR learned that the Indonesian government had decided to extend the refugees' deadline for three months beyond the original 31 March cut-off date.

Indonesia also announced it would not cut off humanitarian aid to the refugees, but would instead request assistance from the international community. The refugee agency pledged to help Indonesia in resettling the refugees who decided to remain in West Timor.

In other news, the head of the United Nations mission in East Timor today met with Indonesia's ministers for defense and foreign affairs to discuss, among other issues, the ongoing problem of incursions into East Timor by Indonesia-based militia.

At the meeting in Jakarta, Indonesian Defense Minister, Admiral Sudarsono, told the head of the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), Sergio Vieira de Mello, that neither the Indonesian army or the police were involved in supporting the militia groups in West Timor. Mr. Vieira de Mello asked the Defense Minister to control any "extremists" and stop the militia incursions.

Mr. Vieira de Mello also discussed with Indonesian Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab the legal document that will settle certain border-related problems between the two countries, including the proposed land corridor between East Timor and its Oecussi enclave in West Timor.

In addition, the two officials covered the issues of judicial cooperation between UNTAET and Indonesia, scholarships for East Timorese at Indonesian universities and the payment of pensions for East Timorese who used to work as civil servants for Indonesia.

This morning, Mr. Vieira de Mello met with Domingos Soares, the leader of UNTAS, a pro-integration umbrella group, and six other pro-integration leaders from the same organization.

Following up on a letter Mr. Soares had sent to UNTAET, in which he questioned the validity of the popular consultation, Mr. Vieira de Mello hand-delivered a letter to the UNTAS head in which he reminded him that the Independent Electoral Commission appointed by the Secretary-General had "determined that the results of the popular consultation accurately reflected the will of East Timorese people."

Mr. Vieira de Mello also encouraged UNTAS to occupy the remaining seat on the East Timor's National Consultative Council, and invited Mr. Soares to visit East Timor and inspect the situation for himself.