Subject: E.Timorese refugees start use violence, terror to survive

Also: TNI troops ordered to shoot refugee criminals

The Jakarta Post February 28, 2002

Refugees start use violence, terror to survive

Yemris Fointuna, The Jakarta Post, Kupang

Thousands of East Timorese refugees have begun to use violence and terror against local villagers in a bid to survive in East Nusa Tenggara province following the halt of their food assistance early last month.

Cases of theft, extortion, blackmail and other crimes are also rampant at villages surrounding the refugee camps in the province's capital of Kupang, with local residents complaining of intimidation by the East Timorese.

"Our residents have begun to feel insecure. Every day at least one of us loses a cow, a chicken, a goat, a television or other property," Yakob Dethan, secretary of Tuapukan village, told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

"Local residents are often terrorized, intimidated and blackmailed by refugees. We have asked police to provide security protection, but until now there has been no response," Benyamin Dethan, head of Noelbaki village, added separately.

Tuapukan, Noelbaki and the village of Naibonat have for three years housed about 20,000 East Timorese refugees still stuck in Kupang regency.

Around 108,000 others are accommodated at different refugee camps in North Central Timor, South Central Timor and Atambua, on the border with East Timor.

About 250,000 fled the carnage by militias in East Timor after it voted to break away from Indonesia in August 1999. Most of them have returned to their homeland, which will officially become an independent state in May, 2002.

The cash-strapped government stopped the supply of food assistance to the total 128,000 refugees currently housed across East Nusa Tenggara, offering them the choice either of staying within Indonesia or returning home to East Timor.

Many of them have admitted to running out of food, last provided by the Indonesian government in December, and are now facing starvation. Some have begun to eat cassava in place of rice, others eat rice or porridge, but only twice a day, and said they would likely have nothing to eat in the coming weeks.

Elita Patipelohi, a priest at the Masehi church, based in Tuapukan, aired a similar complaint of high levels of crime in her village over recent weeks.

"As a church leader, every Sunday I have been asked by at least seven members to pray for them because they have lost their animals or other belongings," she told The Post.

"I often witness car drivers being extorted and blackmailed or robbed by groups of refugees."

She said many residents did not dare to fight with them because the robbers were usually armed with machetes, firearms, handguns or other sharp weapons.

"Our region is now increasingly vulnerable to violence by refugees. With the scarcity of food as their motivation, they do what they want," said Nikolaus Ria Hepa, a resident in Noelbaki.

Both Tuapukan and Naibonat are home to only 6,583 people, comprising 1,633 families, while the number of refugees there is more than 18,000, or 2,513 families.

In Noelbaki, which is around 1.7 hectares (ha) in area, about 2,000 refugees control 8,000 square meters, or almost half of the village.

Yakob added that as the refugees were moved to Tuapukan in 1999, local residents have controlled only 10 percent of the 10-ha village, while the rest of the land has been used to accommodate refugee camps.

Villagers have lodged a protest to the local security authorities, demanding that their land, where camps were built, be returned to them by forcing the refugees to leave the areas.

Meanwhile, the East Nusa Tenggara administration denied that disturbances have taken place at or surrounding the refugees over the last two months, despite the cessation of food assistance.

"There has been no upheaval that has harmed the amenity of local people, and life in the camps is OK," spokesman for the local government Johanis Bastian said on Tuesday in Kupang.

The Jakarta Post March 1, 2002

TNI troops ordered to shoot refugee criminals

Yemris Fointuna, The Jakarta Post, Kupang

Udayana Military Commander Maj. Gen. Wellem T. da Costa has ordered soldiers to shoot East Timor refugees found committing violence against Indonesians living near refugee camps in West Timor.

"... I order all TNI members to shoot any criminal on the spot. I am ready to be sued over this decision," Wellem said.

The shoot-on-sight order was issued on Thursday after refugees, many struggling to survive since government aid was stopped on January 1, started terrorizing residents in a search for food.

The refugees, many armed with firearms, are also said to have often extorted and blackmailed locals, in some cases stealing animals and other belongings.

"I have instructed military personnel near Kupang and the West Timor border areas to shoot on sight refugees found involved in criminal acts," Wellem, who oversees security in the East Nusa Tenggara and Bali provinces, told The Jakarta Post.

The Indonesian Military (TNI) would also tighten security at refugee camps and surrounding villages to prevent the violence, he said.

"In an effort to smooth security patrols in West Timor, the TNI headquarters has provided 10 motorcycle units. Patrols will be conducted around the clock by troops equipped with firearms and live bullets," Wellem said.

He said he could understand the difficulties the estimated 128,000 refugees faced as they struggled to survive after aid was stopped.

However, despite the scarcity of food it was not tolerable they be allowed to freely terrorize, intimidate and rob local villagers, he said.

Wellem said the cash-strapped government was sticking to its earlier stance in dealing with the refugees. They had been offered the choice of staying in Indonesia under a resettlement program or returning home.

"At least 11,000 hectares of land in East Kalimantan has been allocated for the East Timorese refugees. Please go there. If they want to stay here, it is impossible because the space is so limited," Wellem said.

The refugees have said they would not leave their camps until after East Timor gains official independence in May 2002.

It remains unclear as to who will feed the refugees till May. Elita Patipelohi, a priest at the Masehi church based at Tuapukan village in Kupang, said many residents had complained of high levels of crime in Tuapukan in recent weeks.

But they did not dare to fight with them because the robbers were usually armed with firearms, handguns, machetes or other sharp weapons, she said.

Since 1999, some of the 128,000 refugees have been housed at camps in the villages of Tuapukan, Noelbaki and Naibonat in Kupang. Many others are accommodated in North Central Timor, South Central Timor and Atambua bordering East Timor.

About 250,000 East Timorese fled carnage carried out by Indonesian Army-backed militias after East Timor voted to break away from Indonesia in August 1999.

Many of the refugees that remain in West Timor are linked to the former Indonesian regime and include ex militia soldiers. They are reluctant to return home despite assurances from East Timor leaders that they will be safe.

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