Subject: JP: Indon gov't team audits funds for East Timorese refugees

The Jakarta Post March 9, 2002

Government team audits funds for East Timorese refugees

Yemris Fointuna, The Jakarta Post, Kupang

A special team dispatched a week ago by the central government to verify the precise number of East Timorese refugees in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) said here on Friday it also was investigating the possible misuse of funds allocated for their now-halted food aid.

Permadi, who leads the 46-member team from the Finance and Development Supervising Body, said the team would audit the use of refugee aid funds disbursed through the provincial government from September 1999 to early 2002.

He could not say whether there were indications that the funds had been embezzled by local officials or individuals, as the field investigation is still underway.

"The team members are still in the field. The results of their findings will be audited for tabulation," Permadi said in the East Nusa Tenggara capital of Kupang.

Johanis Kosapilawan, the spokesman for the provincial administration, confirmed the team's plan to audit the assistance funds disbursed for the refugees between 1999 and 2002.

The total amount of funds disbursed for the refugees remains uncertain.

However, the local administration said it received about Rp 350 billion in emergency funds from the central government from September 1999 through August of last year.

The money excluded Rp 63 billion in food aid funds provided by the central government from September 1999 to September 2001, and another Rp 12.4 billion provided from October 2001 to January of this year.

The team, appointed by Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Jusuf Kalla, arrived in Kupang on March 2. It was tasked with finding accurate data on the number of refugees currently residing in numerous camps in the regencies of Kupang, Belu, South and North Central Timor.

The provincial administration says there are a total of 128,000 East Timorese being housed across East Nusa Tenggara, but Australia and East Timor put the figure at between 60,000 and 80,000.

The contradicting figures have caused confusion among the Indonesian government, other countries and related international agencies.

Permadi said last Sunday his team would require one week to complete its job. But as of Friday, the team was still unable to ascertain the number of the refugees.

"We have made no conclusion yet because some members of the team are still working in the field. All the results of their work will analyzed first," he said.

He did not give a deadline for calculating the number of refugees in the 174 camps scattered in 106 subdistricts in the four regencies.

Permadi admitted that one of the difficulties in gathering the data was that many of the refugees moved between camps.

Kosapilawan said the results of the team's work would be compared with data obtained by the provincial administration for verification.

The refugees still remaining in NTT, most in the regency of Belu, were among the approximately 250,000 East Timorese who fled the violence in their homeland by pro-Indonesian militias after East Timor voted to break away from Jakarta in August 1999. Most of these refugees have since returned to their homes.

East Nusa Tenggara Governor Piet A. Tallo said a total of 12,114 refugees, or 3,681 families, had been repatriated to East Timor between June last year and February 2002.

The government halted food aid to the refugees on Jan. 1, leaving to food shortages. Many refugees have been forced to eat leaves, fruits and tubers from nearby forests.

However, the provincial government decided on Wednesday to resume rice assistance to those refugees most in need.

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