Fri, 03 Jan 2003

No more assistance for East Timorese 'refugees': Govt

Moch. N. Kurniawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Those East Timorese living in camps in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) whose refugee status ended on Dec. 31 have automatically become Indonesian citizens, a senior government official has said.

The director of the Bureau of Refugee Rescue and Protection at the National Coordinating Agency for Disaster Management and Refugee Rescue (Bakornas PBP), Bakri Beck, said Thursday that all assistance previously accorded to them would be stopped.

"They must start applying for either resettlement or transmigration programs run by the government.

"Once they agree to participate in one of the programs, they will receive new assistance from the government," Bakri told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

According to Bakri, the new aid scheme includes housing, farmland, financial assistance, and a supply of essential goods for six to nine months, as well as support facilities like education and health centers.

"With the new assistance scheme, we hope they can survive on their own harvests after nine months," he said.

As many as 250,000 East Timorese fled, or were forced to flee, to Indonesia's West Timor in 1999 after Indonesian military- backed militias went on bloody rampages triggered by the humiliating defeat of the pro-integration camp in a United Nations-organized referendum.

The violence killed hundreds of civilians, mostly independence supporters, and destroyed almost 80 percent of the infrastructure in the former Portuguese colony, which achieved full independence on May 20, 2002.

A total of 18 military and police personnel, and militiamen were brought to court for the violence, but 12 of them have been acquitted so far.

Most refugees have returned to East Timor, but some 10,000 families, amounting to 28,000 people, are still living in squalid refugee camps in West Timor. Most of these were members of the military or police, and former militiamen, as well as their families.

The government has prepared a number of resettlement sites for them in East Sumba, West Sumba and Ngada regencies, all in NTT province; while South Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan have agreed to provide transmigration areas.

The "refugees" have welcomed the move, but demanded that the government provide support facilities like schools and health centers at the resettlement sites.

Bakri, however, said that not all resettlement sites would have support facilities as such facilities might be already available in the surrounding villages.

He called on the East Timorese choosing to stay in Indonesia to apply for inclusion in either a resettlement or transmigration program.

In Atambua, NTT, local authorities said that they planned to relocate at least 1,000 East Timorese families in 2003.

"We are still finalizing the proposal to be submitted to the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration," the head of the local manpower and transmigration office, Embang Bela, was quoted by Antara as saying.

Meanwhile, Kupang Military District commander Lt. Col. Pieter Lobo said Thursday that the government should begin preparing proper homes for the East Timorese in resettlement locations.

"Many resettlement areas have been established, but most of the houses are not worth living in. This has made the East Timorese refugees reluctant to move there," Pieter claimed.

He said, for example, that the houses in resettlement sites in West Sumba and several locations in NTT did not have WCs, clean water or agricultural land available.