|Subject: W Timor Bishop Wants Governments
To Arrange Lasting Solution For Former Refugees
S9845.1383 March 7, 2006
INDONESIA West Timor Bishop Wants Governments To Arrange Lasting
Solution For Former Refugees
ATAMBUA, Indonesia (UCAN) -- The bishop of the Indonesian diocese
bordering Timor Leste (East Timor) has made a direct appeal to Indonesia's
president to take immediate steps to settle the situation of former East
Bishop Anton Pain Ratu of Atambua told President Susilo Bambang
Yudhoyono during a Feb. 24 teleconference that he would like to see the
resettlement or repatriation of the people who came to West Timor in 1999
from East Timor.
The number of "new citizens" is too large for the border
districts of Belu and North Central Timor (TTU, Indonesian acronym)
"with such limited area for farming and raising animals," the
Divine Word bishop said. He asked the president "to help solve this
problem thoroughly by accelerating transmigration and repatriation of the
former East Timor refugees."
The video hookup in Atambua, the capital of Belu district, 2,000
kilometers east of Jakarta, was arranged by the government of East Nusa
Tenggara province. It was part of a teleconference that brought Yudhoyono
in contact with regional governments at the edges of the Indonesian
archipelago. West Timor is Indonesia's southernmost territory. The three
other areas involved in the event were Aceh in the west, Miangas Island of
North Sulawesi province in the north and Merauke district of Papua
province in the east.
Bishop Pain Ratu, once dubbed the "bishop of refugees," also
expressed his hope that the Timor Leste government would reopen the
possibility of repatriation by giving amnesty to former East Timorese who
have been declared guilty of violating human rights in the former
"I know the two suggestions -- transmigration and repatriation --
are not easy to implement," acknowledged the prelate, who heads
Cooperation Forum of Interreligious Leaders of Belu and North Central
Timor. Catholics form close to 95 percent of the two districts' population
of close to 450,000.
Responding to the prelate, Yudhoyono recalled the government programs
when he was Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs under
then-president Megawati Soekarnoputri: relocation within East Nusa
Tenggara, transmigration to another province or repatriation.
Transmigration is a longstanding government program to relocate people
from densely populated parts of the country to less populated areas.
"With those programs we hoped we could solve the humanitarian
problem thoroughly. But in reality we have to admit that we have not been
able to settle it completely. It is still a long way to go," the
The former refugees came with the estimated 250,000 people who entered
West Timor amid massive violence following the August 1999 referendum in
which East Timor voters chose independence from Indonesia by a wide
margin. Most of these people returned to their homeland, but 24,544
families with 104,436 people remain in West Timor. They automatically
became Indonesian citizens at the end of 2002 and were no longer
Some former refugees have been relocated to other provinces in Sumatra
and Kalimantan, but most of them still live in temporary camps along the
West Timor-Timor Leste border.
Other people present at the Belu end of the teleconference expressed
their opinions about the situation to UCA News.
Wilibrodus Joseph Nahak, a Catholic layman from Belu, said he supported
the bishop's suggestions, describing the local Catholic leader as a man
who understands how the displaced people feel.
"Amnesty is very important to solve the problem of the former
refugees," he said, but he doubted the Timor Leste government would
easily give amnesty to people who have been declared guilty of severe
violations of human rights.
Hundreds of people died in the post-referendum violence, which was
blamed on pro-Jakarta militias supported by some elements in the
Fransisco Xavier Soares, a former refugee, told UCA News,
"Granting amnesty is important and appropriate, but I think the East
Timor government will not agree." According to Soares, the majority
of former East Timor refugees now living in NTT are families of those who
fought for the integration of East Timor with Indonesia in the civil war
in 1975 and did not favor independence.
"If the East Timor government does not grant amnesty, the problem
of the former refugees will remain and the people of East Timor will
continue to live in fear of being attacked (by the pro-Indonesia former
militia)," he said.
The deputy head of Belu district, Gregorius Mau Bili Fernandez, told
UCA News the Timor Leste government stopped its repatriation program two
years ago and no longer allows former refugees to meet family members in
Very few of the former refugees opted to join the transmigration
program, he acknowledged, "but the main cause is that the former
refugees still want to live close to their homeland and hope that one day
they could return there."
Dominggus Alves, a former refugee, now lives in a resettlement area in
Belu. "I am very happy the Indonesian government gave materials to
build houses in resettlement areas. Having a house of our own helps us
concentrate on earning a living, trying to survive," he told UCA
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