Yemris Fointuna, The Jakarta Post, Kupang
President Megawati Soekarnoputri's planned visit to East Timor will be a good way of encouraging East Timorese people taking refuge in West Timor to return to their homeland, says a UNHCR official.
""Should the President be ready to visit East Timor, it would certainly encourage the remaining East Timorese refugees to go back to their homeland,"" Robert Ashe, chief of the UNHCR office in East Timor, said after a meeting with East Nusa Tenggara Governor Piet A. Tallo here on Friday.
Ashe and Reza Hosseni, chief of the International Organization for Migration in East Timor, are in West Timor to visit refugee camps both in Kupang and Belu regencies in the province.
He said they were bringing with them the hopes of UNTAET and East Timor's leaders that the President would join other world leaders in attending the ceremony marking the transfer of authority from UNTAET to the East Timor government and the swearing-in of Alessandro ""Xanana"" Gusmao as the country's first president.
Megawati's attendance at the historic event would not only enhance bilateral, harmonious ties between Indonesia and East Timor but would also help speed up the repatriation of the East Timorese refugees.
Albertos Carlos, a UNHCR staffer who accompanied the two on the visit, said that the refugees' rights and protection were guaranteed if they were willing to go back home.
""Both UNTAET and Xanana have given their assurances that the refugees will certainly get their rights and their assets upon their arrival home in East Timor,"" he said.
He also said that both the UNHCR and IOM would continue to enhance coordination with the provincial administration and the military to provide facilities for the refugees to return home.
""The border areas between the two countries will remain open to let the remaining East Timor refugees go back to their home villages in East Timor,"" he said.
Johanis J. Kosapilawan, spokesman for the provincial administration, said many refugees had yet to return home because they were still awaiting the harvest.
""They are expected to register for repatriation after they have harvested their rice,"" he said.
He added that besides, many other refugees still felt uncertain of the political situation in their homeland prior to the declaration of independence.
East Timor's independence will be declared on May 20, 2002, with Xanana as its first president.
Separately, Yoseph Yoris, chairman of the Justice and Unity faction in the East Nusa Tenggara provincial legislative council lashed out at Megawati's critics who oppose the President's planned East Timor visit, saying the President should ignore them because they were politicians who did not want Indonesia to have good ties with East Timor.
""Megawati should go ahead with her plan to visit East Timor on May 20 to show the world that Indonesia is a huge nation which wants to develop better ties with all countries, including East Timor,"" he said.
He said the Indonesian people should not forget the history of East Timor, which was once part of Indonesia, and the two nations have many similarities in various fields which could help in developing future bilateral ties.
He warned that the President's absence from the historic event would likely raise suspicions among world and East Timorese leaders about Indonesia's real intentions regarding East Timor.