Subject: SMH/W.Timor: Home away from home as nervous wait goes on

Sydney Morning Herald April 1, 2000

Home away from home as nervous wait goes on

By JOANNA JOLLY in Tuapukan

The song is the most popular in the camp.

"UNAMET go home, you only came for a few months, but many people died," the refugees sing to an upbeat tune. "You came to be in the middle, but in fact you were not. Because of UNAMET, we have left our children and gone away from our families."

The song is on an album recorded by the former East Timorese militia leader, Eurico Guterres. In Tuapukan, a camp of 20,000 refugees 30 kilometres from the West Timor capital, Kupang, everyone knows the words.

Despite fears the Indonesian Government would stop giving aid to this and some 200 other East Timorese refugee camps around the province, Tuapukan is beginning to look like a permanent settlement.

Refugees have made homes under bamboo and plastic shelters. Washing water comes from wells. Drinking water, provided by the West Timorese Government, is brought in by tanker.

Children attend two nearby schools and medical facilities are available. Although the camp relies on rice and sugar, brought in by the Government and international organisations, vegetables are readily available. Many refugees have set up shops around the camps, selling basic necessities such as soap, bottled water, toothpaste and coffee.

According to the camp information officer, Max Adoe, an agreement made a month ago committed the local government to providing aid until the end of May.

The aid is necessary because, for the moment, most residents do not want to leave. Many of the refugees served in the Indonesian Army in East Timor. They wear their uniforms and look after camp security.

According to independence leaders in East Timor, refugees in camps around West Timor have become the victims of continuing militia violence.

But Mr Adoe said the camp was peaceful, thanks to the help of the East Timorese soldiers.

Instead, the refugees worry what will happen to them if they return to East Timor.

"We have heard there are some problems with CNRT [National Council for Timorese Resistance] and Falintil in East Timor," said Abelita Soares, 28, who lives in Tuapukan with her three children.

"They are still fighting, kidnapping, raping and stealing. I got a letter from a Falintil commander in Los Palos who said this was happening."

This letter was distributed a few days ago. The East Timorese here receive many letters like this, handed out by UNTAS, a pro-Indonesian organisation staffed by former pro-autonomy politicians.

"We have some letters from our relatives in East Timor saying the situation is now OK, but we aren't sure," said Mrs Soares. This uncertainty is felt by many in the camp.

Despite the threats from Jakarta to cut off aid, the refugees believe they will continue to be looked after by the Indonesian Government.

They are waiting to find out whether the situation in East Timor has improved before returning.

If the situation in East Timor doesn't improve, many are resigned to staying in West Timor and building new lives away from their homeland.

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