Subject: JP: W. Timor locals shun refugees from Kupang

Received from Joyo Indonesia News

Jakarta Post

August 12, 2002

Locals shun presence of more refugees from Kupang

Yemris Fointuna, The Jakarta Post, Kupang, NTT

The threat of violence is imminent in East Nusa Tenggara province as residents in North Central Timor Regency have objected to the presence of more East Timorese Indonesian refugees in their area as part of the government's sponsored resettlement program.

Hundreds of refugees, comprising at least 85 families, have been relocated to the Ponu resettlement area in Biboki Anleu subdistrict, North Central Timor, from Noelbaki camps in the provincial capital of Kupang.

But the people of North Central Timor and their regency administration have objected to the relocation of refugees in their area, even though it has already been approved by local regency military commander Lt. Col. Bambang Supriyanto.

"We object to the presence of hundreds of refugees dispatched from Kupang because there are another 10,000 refugees from the Oecusi area who will be relocated to the Ponu resettlement area," said North Central Timor Regent Hengki Sakunab.

The Oecusi area is located in newly independent East Timor and borders North Central Timor in Indonesia.

The relocated refugees are mostly those from Los Palos district in East Timor, which officially declared its independence from Indonesia last May.

Speaking to The Jakarta Post on Saturday, Regent Hengki said the limited area in his regency to accommodate huge numbers of refugees was another reason for his administration to reject new resettlers.

"We only want to receive East Timorese Indonesian refugees from Oecusi because their character and culture are very similar with people in North Central Timor, which will smoothen the process of assimilation between refugees and locals," he added.

Opposition has also been voiced by residents from Ponu, who demonstrated on Friday at the North Central Timor legislative council for six hours to protest the refugee resettlement in their region.

The protesters criticized the local military for resettling the refugees without obtaining approval from local government and community leaders.

The head of Biboki Anleu subdistrict, P.D. Afeanpah, said he had conveyed the demands of the demonstrators to the North Central Timor military chief, but he had ignored them and gone ahead with the relocation.

"People here have told the local military chief not to bring in refugees from other places to Ponu, but he quietly registered and relocated 85 families of refugees to the resettlement area," Afeanpah said.

Kris Manahet, a senior councillor from North Central Timor, gave backing to the stance held by local residents, saying there were still many other complicated problems that the city's administration had to resolve.

"The local government not only has to deal with refugees. There are many other jobs that need to be done. So, don't pose us with new problems," he added.

However, Kupang's Wirasakti Military Commander Col. Moeswarno Moesanip defended the move by his subordinate to resettle hundreds of refugees to Ponu.

He told the Post the relocation was made because the resettlement area was still vacant and uninhabited.

Thousands of East Timorese Indonesian refugees in East Nusa Tenggara were given until Aug. 31 to return to East Timor or stay in Indonesia by joining its resettlement programs.

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