Sat, 25 Mar 2000

East Timor refugees to join transmigration program

KUPANG, East Nusa Tenggara (JP): Most of the remaining East Timor refugees taking shelter here have chosen to join the local transmigration program as Indonesian citizens, an official said.

Vice Governor Johanes Pake Pani told reporters recently an estimated 75,000 refugees would join the resettlement program, with some already relocated to two transmigration sites in the province.

"These people wish to stay in Indonesia and so far the government has prepared 1,350 houses in Sulamu area in South Central Timor regency," Pani said, adding that the government has plans to build another 7,600 houses.

Of some 260,000 East Timorese fleeing their violence-ravaged home soil in September last year, 100,000 are still camping in the province.

The government has set a March 31 deadline for the remaining refugees to choose whether to be repatriated or remain part of Indonesia. The self-determination census, conducted in cooperation with Cendana University, finished on Monday and the results will be announced next week.

Pani said the provincial government would ask the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to provide funds to finance the construction of the houses.

In the weekly coordination meeting between the local government and the international agencies on Tuesday, Pani asked representatives of the UNHCR to transport 236 families from two camps here to resettlement areas in Sulamu.

The UNHCR has yet to respond to the requests, but asserted that it would help the local government implement the resettlement program. The international body is responsible only for repatriation of East Timorese.

Head of the local social services office Yohanes Payong Beda said other resettlement areas had been built in Temun in North Central Timor regency, Ponu in South Central Timor regency and Central Malaka in Belu regency.

"There are 200 houses in Ponu and another 300 in Central Malaka available for the refugees," Beda said. He added that over the past month, the local government had moved almost 1,000 refugees to these areas.

Recent polls conducted by 30 local reporters revealed that only 12.24 percent of the refugees wish to return to East Timor, 48.55 percent pledge to stay in Indonesia and the rest remain undecided.

According to the study, nationalism and safety are the reasons for East Timorese to remain part of Indonesia. Those who have not decided say they are waiting for surety in East Timor.

The landmark plebiscite in East Timor last August resulted in overwhelming rejection of Indonesia's autonomy offer, ending 23 years of Indonesian rule over the former Portuguese colony. (dja)