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Press Statement by James P. Rubin, Spokesman
October 9, 1999

Assistant Secretary Koh Meets With Press in Jakarta, Indonesia

Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Harold Hongju Koh held a press briefing in Jakarta on Saturday, October 9, 1999, at 5:00 p.m. local time (5:00 a.m. EST) regarding his recent visit to Indonesia and East Timor. The text of his prepared statement follows.

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Let me begin by thanking State Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Dr. Haryono Suyono and Governor Piet Tolle of the province of Nusa Tenggara Timur for their extraordinary graciousness and hospitality during my visit here. Let me also thank our splendid new Ambassador, Robert Gelbard, and his most able country team for their outstanding support during this, my third trip to Indonesia as Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

As I speak, perhaps as many as 230,000 of the inhabitants of East Timor-representing as much as a quarter of the population of that region--have been displaced from their homes and are living under extremely harsh conditions.

On September 29, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas met in New York to discuss the tragic humanitarian and human rights crisis in West and East Timor. During their discussion, Foreign Minister Alatas extended an invitation for the U.S. Government follow up on the recent visit to Timor of a multinational delegation headed by my colleague, Julia Taft, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration.

For the past 5 days, I have traveled in and around the cities of Denpassar, Kupang, Atambua, and Dili, with a delegation that included six other State Department officials and two Indonesian officials. Our delegation visited approximately a dozen camps of displaced persons in West Timor and spoke with many East Timorese who are living under extreme hardship, not just in these camps, but in Bali and other parts of the country. We talked candidly with a very wide range of civilian officials at the national, local and provincial levels, UN officials, religious leaders, and NGO representatives.

We focused on four questions: whether humanitarian assistance levels in the West Timor camps are adequate; whether the safety of individuals living in those camps is adequately protected; whether camp conditions permit international organizations and international NGOs to operate safely within the camps; and whether camp conditions adequately protect the free choice of persons living there to decide whether or not to return to East Timor.

Let me report on the findings of our U.S. delegation. We all believe that Indonesian civilian authorities at all levels of government have worked hard and sincerely to make a good-faith effort to provide the East Timorese displaced with adequate levels of food, shelter, water and medicine. But the residents of these camps are living in fear of the militias - which the TNI organized, trained, directed, and supported - who are still terrorizing East Timorese citizens throughout the West Timor camps.

International humanitarian organizations stand ready and willing to help. But the militia presence in the West Timor camps is so pervasive, that these nongovernmental organization workers cannot safely enter the camps to do the critical work that they have done so effectively elsewhere in the world. Moreover, the residents of the West Timor camps currently lack sufficient information to make a fully informed, free choice whether or not to return to East Timor. Residents of the camps fear for their safety if they publicly express their preference to return home, and a troubling disinformation campaign has frightened many of these displaced persons into believing that they would be in danger from INTERFET forces if they were to return to East Timor.

In short, the situation that has been created in West Timor by the militias- acting in collusion with the TNI-has reached a crisis point, which can only get worse as we approach the rainy season and a missed planting season back in East Timor. This crisis demands an immediate response.

In my meetings in West Timor and here in Jakarta, I will deliver the same message regarding this crisis to Indonesian government officials at both the provincial and national levels. The repatriation of all those who want to return to East Timor must be carried out swiftly and in cooperation with international agencies and NGOs. The Indonesian Government must take immediate steps to bring militia activities to heel and create a safe, intimidation-free environment - both inside and outside the West Timor camps. East Timorese refugees must be allowed to make a free and informed choice about whether to return to East Timor, to remain in West Timor, or to be resettled elsewhere without fear of retribution. A free and accurate flow of information about conditions in East Timor must be allowed, so that those in the camps can make fully informed choice about whether or not to go home.

Today, the Government of Indonesia and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees have launched a joint effort to begin evacuating East Timorese displaced persons out of camps in West Timor back to East Timor. This is a welcome and positive first step, but further action is urgently needed. The displaced persons must be able to choose where they will go, they must be transported immediately to their destinations and received at their destination. The UN High Commisioner for Refugees and international humanitarian organizations must be involved in each step so that this process works. If the displaced persons are registered, the international organizations must be involved, and the process must meet their standards, their international standards.

As Secretary Albright made clear in Washington, and as Secretary of Defense William Cohen reiterated here in Jakarta last week, the United States recognizes that this is a critical moment in Indonesia's history. The most democratic MPR in Indonesia's history is now organizing itself and laying the groundwork for its operations. It will soon choose Indonesia's next President, and the new DPR will begin passing laws reflecting the democratic will of the Indonesian people.

The United States stands ready to support Indonesia's transition to democracy, which we hope and expect will soon produce the third largest democracy in the world. We look forward to working with a democratic Indonesia where civil society prospers, the rule of law thrives and accountability is standard practice. The consultations in East Timor, like Indonesia's recent national elections, should be regarded as another significant step toward democracy.

In urging these actions, I speak not as an unsympathetic critic, but as an Asian-American, who like you, has deep ties to this part of the world. My parents were born in South Korea, and like all of you, they experienced the pain of watching their homeland divided, and watching their country struggle toward a democratic transition. At stake in this crisis is not just the lives and safety of as many as 230,000 East Timorese people, but Indonesia's international reputation. I pledge my whole-hearted support, and that of my government, to the noble efforts of all Indonesians to bring their country into the new millennium as a democracy in which the human rights of all inhabitants are fully respected.

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