Subject: AFP: Tension in Indonesia forces IOM to suspend East Timor refugee returns

Agence France Presse July 10, 2000, Monday

Tension in Indonesia forces IOM to suspend East Timor refugee returns

JAKARTA, July 10

Tension between East Timorese refugees and locals in Indonesia's West Timor has forced the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to suspend its refugee return operation.

An IOM statement, released Monday by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), said the agency was suspending refugee return operations from Kupang, the main town in West Timor, "as the situation continues to be very tense."

"The registration process of East Timorese refugees scheduled for this week has been delayed due to fighting between local people and East Timorese refugees in Oesau, near Tuapukan camp on the outskirts of Kupang," the release said.

It added that should security conditions improve, the registration process would resume on Tuesday next week.

Tensions between locals and East Timorese refugees have been on the rise in the past few weeks. The West Timorese resents that the refugees receive free food and other supplies from the international community.

Both groups are also struggling to gain control of money-making gambling and other illicit activities in the area.

Tension between the refugees from Tuapukan and Noelbaki and residents in surrounding villages have led to both sides setting up roadblocks on the main route from Kupang to the inland towns of Soe, Kefamananu and Atambua.

Residents have also called for the closing of the Tuapukan camp and for all refugees to leave the area.

IOM said the road blockade has prevented the organisation from positioning its 330 personnel, most of them student volunteers, at registration sites throughout West Timor.

The organisation said it was preparing contingency plans to move out a large number of East Timorese refugees from Kupang if the situation in the Noelbaki and Tuapukan refugee camps deteriorates into a full confrontation with the local community.

IOM said it was in contact with the owners of the ship "The Patricia Anne Hotung" to have the vessel dock in Kupang to be ready to move people immediately.

IOM is also in contact with airlines to have an aircraft on standby should the situation deteriorate further.

In contrast, the situation was calm in the Belu district of West Timor which bore the brunt of some 250,000 East Timorese refugees following the independence ballot last August.

At the southern Betun crossing, the movement of 850 people to Suai continued Monday and is scheduled to be completed early next week, the release said.

The refugees fled or were forced to flee at gunpoint in the weeks of violence by pro-Indonesian militias backed by Indonesian soldiers that broke out across East Timor following the August 30 vote for independencce.

Hundreds of thousands of other East Timorese fled to the hills and jungles of East Timor.

Some 100,000 to 150,000 refugees remains in camps in West Timor and in nearby islands, officials have said.

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