Subject: JP: Starving E. Timor refugees to receive emergency food aid

Received from Joyo Indonesian News

The Jakarta Post March 7, 2002

Refugees to receive emergency food aid

Yemris Fointuna, The Jakarta Post, Kupang

Starving East Timorese refugees currently languishing in East Nusa Tenggara will be able to hang on a little bit longer after the provincial government, citing humanitarian reasons, finally decided to resume providing them with food assistance.

The cash-strapped government had stopped the supply of relief aid for the 128,000 refugees on Jan. 1, forcing many of them to go hungry or seek out food in the forest.

Deputy NTT Governor Johanis Pake said on Wednesday the provincial government would give rice selectively to those refugees who were in dire straits.

The emergency aid would not be distributed on a permanent basis and would only be incidental in nature, he said. Only those really facing starvation would be given assistance.

"Based on humanitarian values and the emergency situation under which the East Timorese refugees are facing starvation, the NTT government has decided to take the initiative and provide them with rice assistance," Pake told a press conference in the provincial capital of Kupang.

He said the local administration had allocated 30,600 tons of cheap rice to be distributed as emergency assistance.

At least 20,600 tons of the total figure were already available in warehouses belonging to the provincial logistics agency (Dolog), and the remaining 10,000 tons were being transported to Kupang from Java, he said.

Furthermore, the East Nusa Tenggara social affairs office had set aside more than 161 tons of rice which could be distributed at any time as additional assistance for refugees should new emergencies arise, Pake added.

The deputy governor could not say when the emergency food assistance would start being distributed to the refugees as his office had still to consult with the central government over the effects of the decision.

He hoped the central government would support the plan and take emergency measures to tackle starvation among the refugees.

Pake said the local administration would soon identify the refugees to determine which of them were badly in need of the emergency assistance so that the selective distributions of rice would not miss the intended targets.

"If based on the identification certain refugees are found to be really starving, they will be categorized as disadvantaged and will therefore be entitled to receive the rice aid. And in terms of food distribution, they will be treated on the same basis as local disadvantaged people."

Earlier on Wednesday, representatives of some 20,000 refugees from Kupang camps visited the governor's office for the second time this week to ask for food assistance for the East Timorese.

The representatives included Jose Gutteres and Muhajri, both coordinators of the Noelbaki refuge camp; Gustaf L. Lapenangga, coordinator of the Tuapukan camp; and Francisco da Costa, coordinator of the Naibonat camp.

They demanded that the central government and international organizations take emergency measures to immediately save the refugees from starvation.

The representatives said on Monday that refugees living in Tuapukan, Noelbaki and Naibonat had been forced to seek food from the nearby jungle in an effort to survive.

They had begun to eat leaves, wild fruit and all kinds of tubers which they found in the forest.

At least 15 refugees have died from malaria, diarrhea and other diseases over recent months, according to activists from non-governmental organizations.

Local residents have complained of intimidation, terror and violence perpetrated by armed refugees living near their villages. They have also reported several cases of theft and rubbery.

The government has offered the refugees the choice of staying in Indonesia under a resettlement program or returning to East Timor. The refugees have promised to return to their homeland after it becomes a fully independent state on May 20.

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