Sat, 11 Sep 1999

Government braces to help 100,000 refugees

JAKARTA (JP): The government is bracing for the impact of an expected 100,000 refugees from the devastated East Timor.

Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare and Poverty Eradication Haryono Suyono said on Friday over 90,000 people had fled the territory, taking shelter mostly in the East Nusa Tenggara towns of Atambua and Kupang.

Some 25,000 more people are waiting to be evacuated, including 10,000 people who are standing by at Komoro Airport in Dili, he said.

The Ministry of Education is also set to pull out 2,000 teachers and 1,000 staff members from the volatile territory, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Transmigration will follow suit, he said.

"The Indonesian government is providing humanitarian assistance for displaced people inside or outside of East Timor, and will help them find new homes in the country," Haryono said after meeting with President B.J. Habibie at the State Palace.

Minister of Agriculture Soleh Solahuddin, Minister of Transmigration Hendropriyono and National Development Planning Board chairman Budiono also attended the meeting, which focused on delivering humanitarian aid to the refugees.

Haryono said all refugees were being treated equally as Indonesian citizens.

"They remain Indonesian citizens, but if they want to return to their homeland someday we won't prevent them," Haryono said.

Haryono will lead a team of Cabinet ministers to East Timor in the next couple of days to assess evacuation arrangements.

Thousands of people in Dili are sheltering at the provincial police headquarters, the gubernatorial office, the town's port and the headquarters of the Aitarak militia.

Antara news agency reported that the main road in Bobonaro, the gateway to Atambua, was choked on Thursday night. Dozens of trucks, cars and vans were seen lining up to cross the border. A number of vehicles skidded off the road, failing to navigate the sharp bends of the mountain road that leads to the border.

Security has been beefed up along the border after a refugee was allegedly shot dead by a proautonomy supporter in Atambua on Thursday. West Timor Military chief Col. Jurefar said troops would be deployed to the town to prevent similar incidents.

Meanwhile, ships carrying refugees docked at ports in Kupang, Atapupu and Kalabahi in West Timor, as well as ports in the nearby islands of Wetar and Kisar. Twenty-six vessels from the Indonesian Navy have transported 11,600 refugees from East Timor since Monday. The commander of the Eastern Fleet, Rear Adm. Freddy Manengkei, said his ships were expecting to transport another 30,000 people out of East Timor.

In a release issued on Friday, the International Committee of the Red Cross conveyed its grave concern about the health of the refugees.

"The tired looking people are accommodated at bus terminals, stadiums and school buildings. They sleep in the open air," it said.

The committee plans to distribute mats, cooking utensils, toothbrushes, soap and plastic goods for the refugees, according to the release. It also said it was ready to provide food, clean water and medical necessities, including medicines and medical tools.

In Ujungpandang, South Sulawesi, some 250 people fleeing East Timor arrived at Makassar port on Friday. They were greeted by relatives who had been waiting for them since the violence exploded following the announcement of the results of the Aug. 30 direct ballot.

International aid

Indonesian Military (TNI) Commander/Minister of Defense and Security Gen. Wiranto said the military would assist institutions and international agencies in delivering humanitarian aid to East Timor.

Speaking after meeting with the UN Security Council mission, Wiranto said troops would be deployed to protect aid deliveries.

Wiranto's statement followed a number of calls for Indonesia to establish a security cordon to allow immediate humanitarian aid to enter the beleaguered territory.

Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy was among the world leaders to make this request.

"We will be talking to the Indonesian authorities to get an agreement on a security cordon so that the humanitarian groups can move in and supply direct assistance," he said on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Auckland.

Axworthy announced the initiative after speaking by telephone with East Timorese proindependence leader Jose Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao in Jakarta, who appealed for help in saving the East Timorese.

Some nine nations have pledged to provide food if Indonesia ensures security, Axworthy said, adding that "we hope that in the next 24 hours we can get this off the ground".

Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister John Howard said in Sydney his country was giving the United Nations A$3 million (US$2 million) to help its relief agencies operating in East Timor, Reuters reported. (27/emf/edt/prb/amd)