Subject: JP: Government told to disburse foreign aid for refugees

The Jakarta Post
July 20, 2002

Government told to disburse foreign aid for refugees

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja and Yemris Fointuna, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta/Kupang

East Nusa Tenggara Governor Piet A. Tallo asked the central government on Friday to immediately disburse Japanese aid funds meant to help the provincial administration deal with the food shortages affecting East Timorese refugees.

Speaking to journalists after meeting President Megawati Soekarnoputri at the State Palace, Piet said he had suggested that Jakarta allow the provincial disaster coordination unit to manage the foreign aid and carry out the relief program.

The unit, known by its Indonesian acronym of Satkorlak, is the organization that has been dealing with the refugees and which is familiar with them.

"Allowing Satkorlak to implement the humanitarian program will make it easier for us to account to the public as regards fund usage," Piet remarked.

The governor met the President after attending a coordinating meeting between the country's governors and home minister Hari Sabarno.

Piet's statement came after head of the province's social affairs office Husein Pancratius insisted that the local administration did not have enough rice to feed the refugees.

Japan has donated Rp 53 billion (US$6 million) in humanitarian aid for the refugees after the Indonesian government stopped providing assistance on Dec. 31 last year.

The Japanese funds have been transferred to the government's bank account in the Harmoni branch office of state bank BNI 46 in Central Jakarta.

"This foreign aid should be used to handle the current food shortage among the refugees," the governor said.

A series of rallies have been staged by the refugees over the past few weeks demanding the disbursement of the foreign aid as the threat of starvation was looming.

The House of Representatives has responded positively to the demonstrations. In a letter sent on Wednesday, House Commission VII for people's welfare chairman Posma Lumban Tobing asked the Minister of Social Affairs Bachtiar Chamsyah to visit the camps to verify the reports of food shortages.

"Given the importance of the issue, the commission requests an explanation from the Minister of Social Affairs and suggests that he send a team to check on the situation in the field. We would also like a copy of the team's report," the letter said.

There are up to 50,000 East Timorese left languishing in camps across East Nusa Tenggara. All the refugee camps will be closed down on Dec. 31 of this year.

Jakarta has set an Aug. 31 deadline for the refugees to choose between repatriation or resettlement as Indonesian citizens.

Piet said some 1,000 refugees would be repatriated next week as part of the ongoing efforts to reduce the number of the displaced persons.

"We are also encouraging people to make their decisions quickly before we shut down the camps," Piet said.

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