Subject: JP: Starving E.Timorese refugees denied food aid

The Jakarta Post March 2, 2002

Starving refugees denied food aid

Yemris Fointuna, The Jakarta Post, Kupang

Pleading financial difficulties, the provincial government in East Nusa Tenggara insisted on Friday it would not resume the supply of food assistance to some 128,000 (sic) East Timorese refugees currently facing starvation in camps across the province.

Stanis Tefa, welfare bureau chief of the provincial secretariat, said that despite suffering from hunger, the refugees would not receive food relief from the Indonesian government.

However, the government would supply medicines and health services for those who were experiencing emergency conditions, including those suffering from diarrhea and other diseases, as well as the effects of flooding and other natural disasters in their camps, he added.

"We no longer have the money to provide rice and a food allowance to the refugees. The government will only give them assistance if they are faced with extraordinary circumstances or emergencies," Tefa told The Jakarta Post.

"But this will only be in the form of healthcare, not food, assistance," he added.

Meanwhile, Uni Timor Aswaian (Untas), an umbrella organization dealing with the affairs of East Timorese refugees, said on Friday that the Indonesian government should not allow them to die from starvation as its international image would be further tarnished.

Joao Bosco, the organization's monitoring and evaluation section head, urged the central government to continue to help the suffering refugees survive in their camps.

"The Indonesian government should immediately take emergency measures to counter the threat of starvation being faced by the refugees in West Timor," he told journalists in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara.

Bosco argued that Decree No. 5/1999 issued by the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) clearly stipulated that the Indonesian government was responsible for protecting the East Timorese refugees and guaranteeing their welfare.

"Now the government is no longer providing food aid to the refugees even though they are currently facing the threat of hunger. It's a violation of the law," he said. "The government must take emergency action to tackle the problem."

The cash-strapped government halted the supply of food assistance on Jan. 1 and instead offered the refugees the choice of staying in Indonesia under a resettlement program or returning to East Timor.

The refugees are the last of the some 250,000 others who fled the carnage unleashed by pro-Jakarta militias in East Timor after it voted to secede from Indonesia in August 1999. Many of the other refugees have since returned to their homeland.

However, the estimated 128,000 refugees currently languishing in West Timor and Kupang have refused to leave the camps until after East Timor officially becomes an independent state on May 20, 2002.

Many of them have said they are running out of food, last provided by the Indonesian government in December, and have begun to eat cassava in place of rice, or are eating rice only twice a day.

Residents in the villages of Noelbaki, Tuapukan and Naibonat in Kupang, meanwhile, have complained of violence and terror perpetrated by refugees who steal and rob from them for food.

Udayana Military Commander Maj. Gen. Wellem T. da Costa on Thursday ordered soldiers to shoot East Timor any refugees found committing violence against villagers living near the refugee camps.

He said he could understand the difficulties the refugees faced as they struggled to survive after the aid was stopped, but added that despite the scarcity of food it was intolerable that they be allowed to freely terrorize, intimidate and blackmail local villagers.

Many of the refugees that remain in West Timor are linked to the former Indonesian regime and include ex-militiamen.

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