Let the refugees go home

 One year after the East Timorese voted in favour of independence, more than 100,000 refugees are still living in neighbouring West Timor. Aid agency CAFOD is calling on the Indonesian government to allow them to return to their homes. An estimated 130,000 refugees are still living in camps in West Timor a year after being forced to leave their homes, following the Indonesian army-backed violence in East Timor. The East Timorese voted overwhelmingly in favour of independence from Indonesia on 30 August 1999. The Indonesian armed forces and the local militias they supported responded with a three-week campaign of murder, rape and destruction. It is widely believed that those same armed forces and local militias responsible for the destruction of East Timor continue to hold East Timorese against their will in refugee camps. CAFOD's East Timor programme officer, Catherine Sexton, said: "More pressure must be exerted on the Indonesian government and military to cease their support to renegade army units, East Timorese militia and ex-collaborators who are preventing the remaining refugees returning home." Indonesia's top legislative body last week voted to grant immunity to senior military figures involved and to ban retroactive prosecution for human rights crimes. This flew in the face of calls from the international community for prosecutions to begin against both the architects and perpetrators of the destruction. Catherine Sexton said: "This denial of justice strengthens UN human rights commissioner Mary Robinson's call for an international tribunal to bring to book those guilty of serious human rights abuses in East Timor." She said that, as the people of East Timor try to rebuild their nation, they are being urged to accept reconciliation rather than justice. On a recent trip to East Timor, CAFOD was told by a partner: "We are only human; we cannot forgive those who murdered and raped our families without them being made to pay for their crimes. We need justice first, then we can work to be reconciled with those Timorese who did these things." CAFOD has been working in East Timor since 1989. It supports the search for justice and the reconstruction efforts for the Catholic Church at a national and parish level, and concentrates work in the areas which suffered the worst destruction in last year's rampage.

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