Subject: DPA: UNHCR agrees to take over food distribution to East Timor refugees

Deutsche Presse-Agentur April 4, 2000, Tuesday, BC Cycle UNHCR agrees to take over food distribution to East Timor refugees


The UNHCR has agreed to take over responsibility from the Indonesian government for feeding East Timorese refugees still languishing in West Timor, provided Jakarta removes military and militia elements from the camps, U.N. officials said Tuesday.

In response to an Indonesian threat to cut off all aid to refugees on March 31, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had started to negotiate a deal with Jakarta.

The recently concluded census carried out by the Indonesian authorities last month has established that 126,150 refugees are still in West Timor.

The UNHCR has recorded the voluntary repatriation of 157,000 refugees from Indonesia to East Timor since last October.

UNHCR acting chief of the Kupang office in West Timor Craig Sanders said Tuesday: "We are here to support the government of Indonesia and relieve some of their burden.

"We are taking over food distribution, responsibilities are being rearranged on condition that we see fully civilian camps established," he said in an interview.

Rice distribution, providing medical services and water supplies to the camps had been shared up until now by U.N. agencies, non- governmental organisations and the Jakarta social services ministry.

Indonesia had announced that it would stop all aid on March 31, and expected all refugees to have made up their minds by that date - either to return to their homeland, or to accept permanent resettlement by Jakarta.

International agencies have pleaded with Jakarta to be more flexible and accept a three month transition period.

A total of 6,500 tons of rice provided by Jakarta has just arrived since the deadline, and the immediate crisis has been averted.

Danish refugee council representative Charles McFadden said, "I don't understand why the Indonesian government does not just remove the troublemakers in the camps.

"They do not have any intention of going back to East Timor, but they also try to stop everyone else from returning home. If you want to speed up the flow of refugees, the solution is simple. If people clearly want to stay forever in Indonesia, separate them from those who may want to return."

His remarks were echoed by Sanders who said "calling for a separation of people inside the camps and the hard-core anti- independence people to be removed from the rest of the refugees is a point we have been calling for since the first agreement was signed with Jakarta last October 14".

The Danish Refugee Council estimates that about 70 per cent of the 126,000 refugees would opt to return to their homeland if given a free choice. dpa tf mu


LOAD-DATE: April 4, 2000

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