Subject: Indonesia turns off supply tap for E. Timor refugees

Received from Joyo Indonesian News

Indonesia turns off supply tap for East Timor refugees

JAKARTA, Jan 3 (AFP) - Indonesian authorities have ceased providing food and cash for tens of thousands of East Timorese refugees stuck in squalid camps in West Timor, an official said Wednesday.

"We have stopped giving out assistance as of January 1," West Timor deputy governor Yohannes Pake Pani told AFP by phone from the capital Kupang.

"The aid was stopped under the direction of chief social welfare minister Yusuf Kalla. We are no longer receiving any assistance from above, no goods, no rice, no money etcetera," Pani said, referring to the central government in Jakarta.

Local authorities in West Timor, and a handful of local aid workers, have been left in charge of looking after the refugees since western aid agencies fled the province in the wake of the brutal murders of three United Nations refugee workers in September 2000.

"In fact it's the UN who should providing assistance to these refugees. How can we keep looking after them?" Pani said.

East Nusa Tenggara which covers West Timor is ranked as one of the poorest of Indonesia's 30 provinces.

The refugees are the remnants of the quarter million or more East Timorese who fled or were forced from their homeland following the overwhelming vote for independence in a United Nations-sponsored plebiscite on August 30, 1999.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says some 180,000 have since returned to East Timor. No agency has been able to conduct an independent count of the remaining refugees but UN and East Timorese officials estimate around 70,000 remain.

Pani disputed reported comments by West Timor police earlier in the week that the refugees had been given a deadline of January 1 to start vacating the camps.

"We're only stopping aid provisions. The camps are still open. We'd be perceived as completely inhumane if we closed them down," the deputy governor said.

The government has a plan in place to resettle the refugees within Indonesia or help repatriate them to East Timor, he said.

"We're just waiting for them to decide. The plans are there, but we don't know how many people are going to choose what."

Once the refugees leave the camps to go home or settle elsewhere in Indonesia, "then we'll close the camps down. But not before. We're using no force or pressure whatsoever," Pani said.

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