Subject: Former ETimor Refugees Demand Govt Attention as Thousands Protest in Atambua

also Foreign NGOs evacuated over protest

The Jakarta Post

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Former East Timor Refugees Demand Govt Attention

Yemris Fointuna, The Jakarta Post, Kupang

Thousands of former East Timorese refugees occupied the Belu Legislative Council building in Atambua on Tuesday, demanding the central government explain why assistance has failed to reach them.

This is the second such action staged by the group, who have chosen to become Indonesian citizens rather than return to their home country. The first incident took place last week when they occupied the council building for three days, bringing activity at the building to a halt.

The former refugees have demanded that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono respond to their complaint, which was sent to the State Palace in Jakarta by facsimile.

"We will stay at the council building until the government responds as to when the due assistance for the former refugees was disbursed," Matheus BC Guedes, secretary-general of the Humanitarian Forum for Indonesian Citizens, which consists of former refugees from East Timor, said by mobile phone.

Matheus said the former refugees were owed an estimated Rp 80 billion (US$8.80 million) in assistance over the last three years. The money was originally earmarked for the social assimilation of 16,400 families.

"Each family should have received Rp 4 million. As each family was given only Rp 503,000 in 2006, where is the rest of the money?" Matheus asked.

Commenting on the delayed disbursement of the assistance, head of the East Nusa Tenggara Social Services Office, Frans Salim, said Tuesday social assimilation funds for the refugees in East Nusa Tenggara reached only Rp 40 billion.

The money would be distributed to eight regencies and cities -- Kupang, Timor Tengah Utara, Timor Tengah Selatan, Belu, Sumba Timur, Sumba Barat, Alor and Kupang city -- Salim said, adding that the Belu regency alone received an allocation of only Rp 8 billion for 1,500 families.

What happened, Salim said, was that all refugees, including former members of the Indonesian Military and National Police, and former East Timorese civil servants, now living in Belu were demanding money from the fund.

The money, he said, will be given only to former refugees who have assimilated with local residents.

"It's not for all former East Timorese refugees."

About 2,000 additional families who are demanding a portion of the assistance funds, Salim said they were not entitled to the money because they did not register with authorities in 2005.

The protesters arrived at the council building in Atambua at 9 a.m. by truck and motorcycle. They unfurled banners and demanded the central government stop treating them as second-class citizens.

"We came to Belu not at our own request, but as political victims," Matheus said.

He demanded the government resolve the issue as soon as possible, including providing the former refugees with housing and jobs so they could properly raise their children.

Matheus said the protesters would not leave the council building until they had received assurances their demand would be met.

Hundreds of policemen and soldiers have been deployed around the council building.


The Jakarta Post

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Foreign NGOs evacuated over protest

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Large international NGOs have evacuated staff from the Belu regency capital of Atambua, East Nusa Tenggara, following threats by former East Timorese refugees seeking extra relief funds.

A staff member of Care International, who asked not to be identified, said it evacuated its staff to both Jakarta and Kupang, the capital of East Nusa Tenggara.

"We're on the way to Kupang. All 22 local staff have been ordered on leave until there is further notice from Jakarta," he said.

Oxfam project manager Jhon Takering, from Britain, said four staff members stationed in Atambua had been withdrawn to Kupang.

"We have our own standards of evacuation. As soon as there was a threat, our management decided to temporarily withdraw the staff from Atambua," Takering said.

Belu Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Mulyadi Kaharni said he had since ordered officers to increase security for international institutions in Atambua.

"Each international office in Atambua is being guarded by two police officers," he said.

The protest by the former refugees, which started Monday, has been hostile, forcing offices and shops to close.

A member of the Regional Representative Council from East Nusa Tenggara, Yoseph Manggo, said that as of 2006 the Indonesian government no longer handed out relief funds to former East Timorese refugees.

"As of that year they were no longer termed 'refugees' as well. That's why the demand by protesters for funds to be handed out is irrational," Manggo told Antara news agency Thursday.

When former refugees started protesting Monday, demanding the central government deliver overdue funds to over 16,000 families, Manggo checked with Coordinating Minister for the People's Welfare Aburizal Bakrie and discovered the money was not available.

The previous existing relief fund of Rp 8 billion (US$880,000) had been handed out to 4,000 families, according to data compiled by the refugee coordinator in Belu, he said.

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