Subject: JP: Refugees call for speedy distribution of Italian rice aid

Refugees call for speedy distribution of Italian rice aid

The Jakarta Post December 11, 2002

Thousands of East Timorese refugees called on the government to distribute 104 tons of rice, received as aid from Italy, which was being held by the East Nusa Tenggara provincial administration because of conflicting figures on the number of refugees in the province.

The Presidium for East Timorese Refugees (PPTT), an organization established by the refugees to handle their interests, questioned the motive and reasoning behind the local administration's decision not to distribute the rice while refugees were left to run short of food ahead of the holidays.

"Many refugees asked about the rice aid, but we cannot give a positive response since the Belu administration has yet to distribute it," Antara news agency quoted the chairman of PPTT, Agustinho Pinto, as saying in Belu, Atambua, on Tuesday.

Agustinho said he had frequently questioned the local administration about the aid since the government's humanitarian assistance to the refugees had been halted.

"Refugees are in need of the rice to help them survive the difficult times ahead of Christmas and New Year's," he said.

He challenged the local administration to produce accurate data on the number of East Timorese taking refuge in the province.

He said the PPTT had submitted new data to the local administration that showed the number of refugees totaled 17,669 families or 105,277 people.

"We were shocked to learn that there were 19,000 refugees according to the local administration's data," he said, adding that he did not know why there was a difference in totals.

Both the central government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have put the figure at 21,000.

Meanwhile, the secretary of the Belu administration, Joachim Lopez, said he had ordered his personnel to crosscheck the number of refugees with other institutions and NGOs.

The local administration also held back in the middle of the year financial aid from Japan for refugees on the grounds that it would spark social envy among locals. The donation was distributed after the Japanese government asked the central government why it was being withheld.

In other developments, the Belu administration is preparing an unnamed area in the regency to accommodate the East Timorese who fled recent violence in Dili.

"We have presented a proposal to Governor Piet A. Tallo to get support," said Joachim.

Belu's military commander Lt. Col. Agus Minahasa and police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Agus Nugroho had expressed their support for the proposal.

They said they wanted to develop a specific area to accommodate the East Timorese. They said the people of East Timor would quickly move to Belu regency if violence broke out in the country.

"Some people from East Timor have illegally entered Belu after the Dec. 4 riot and blended in with refugees at separate camps because there is no special place for them," he said, referring to a deadly riot that rocked Dili, East Timor's capital city.

At least two youths were killed and several others were injured in the ensuing violence. A house belonging to East Timor Prime Minister Al Katiri was also burned down.

Joachim added that it would be difficult for security forces to deal with a mass exodus if there was no special place for them.

>From a diplomatic aspect, Indonesia has to provide proper care for refugees from a conflict-ridden country.

Belu Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Agus Nugroho hailed the plan from the public administration to anticipate social upheavals resulting from conflicts in Dili.

The United Nations Civilian Police in East Timor assured police in East Nusa Tenggara that the potential exodus of East Timorese to Indonesian territory following the deadly riot in the capital city of Dili would be minimized.

"Some high-ranking UN police officials said the same thing during a coordination meeting in the border town of Mota'ain this morning," Agus Nugroho said after a coordination meeting in Atambua on Monday.

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