Subject: East Timorese Refugees Face Starvation

Jakarta Post October 1, 2001

East Timorese refugees face starvation

Around 2,000 East Timorese refugees living in numerous camps in Noelbaki and Tuapukan regencies, East Nusa Tenggara, are facing starvation as they have received no food aid from the provincial government over the last four months.

Marsel Nahak, 36, an East Timorese refugee in Noelbaki, called on the provincial government to resume the distribution of food aid to more than 1,870 refugees in the regency as they were unable to meet their daily food requirements.

"We have received no food since early June. We had taken this problem to the local administration to sort out but no response has yet been given," he said on Saturday.

Abrao Sarmento Soares, 39, coordinator of refugees in Noelbaki, concurred and said he had reported to governor Piet A. Tallo on several occasions about the poor situation at the refugee camps in the regency but, so far, no satisfying response had been given.

The government has provided Rp 1,500 and 400 grams of rice per person as daily food aid to the East Timorese refugees who are still staying in the country.

The refugees were the remainder of around 290,000 East Timorese who crossed to the province following the 1999 East Timor election, which voted for East Timor's independence. The majority of them returned to their homeland while some want to stay in Indonesia. The U.S. government recently pledged President Megawati Soekarnoputri US$2 million in aid for the East Timorese refugees who had chosen to remain in Indonesia.

East Nusa Tenggara's provincial administration recently returned to central government Rp 80 billion allocated for the East Timorese refugees because it was no longer needed.

According to The Jakarta Post's monitoring in the field, the refugees have experienced poor conditions because, besides food shortages, they no longer receive any health care or education program.

Simon Seran, another refugee, said several camps built to provide health facilities and an education program for refugees were no longer functioning for reasons that were so far unclear to them.

"The health clinic established near the refugee camps no longer functions and refugees who are in need of medical aid have to take a six-kilometer trip to reach a public health center.

"The health clinic has ceased because its medical staff no longer visit the refugee camps and the education program for school-age refugees has stopped," he said.

Meanwhile, J.B. Kosapilawan, spokesman for the provincial administration, said the local government would take concrete action to help repair the poor conditions of the refugees.

He said the provincial government would immediately resume the distribution of food aid to the refugees to help solve the food crisis while the education and health program would be coordinated with the related ministry offices.

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