Subject: JP: E. Timor refugees allowed to stay in camps until June

Jakarta Post February 16, 2002

E. Timor refugees allowed to stay in caps until June

Yemris Fointuna, The Jakarta Post, Kupang

The government has extended its deadline for 128,000 (sic) Timorese to vacate refugee camps in West Timor until June 20, allowing them more time to decide on their future.

The decision was made by East Nusa Tenggara Governor Piet A. Tallo and Deputy Governor Yohanis Pake Pani after holding a series of talks with representatives of the refugees in Belu, North and South Timor Tengah and Kupang recently.

Yohanis Kosapilawan, spokesman for the provincial administration, said at a media conference here on Friday that the government had made the decision on humanitarian considerations to give more time to refugees who had yet to decide on whether to return to their homeland or stay in Indonesia.

"The refugees' representatives have asked the government to give them more time, until June 20, 2002, to assess security in East Timor following the territory's presidential election," he said.

He said the refugees had indicated that they would return home if the situation there was conducive after the presidential election, which is scheduled for June 20.

About 290,000 displaced East Timorese took refuge in the province following 1999 post-ballot violence in East Timor. Those who remain have been reluctant to return because of the uncertain political situation in the territory.

They have been given two alternatives: return to East Timor or join the resettlement program in Indonesia. To date, they have remained undecided.

The government threatened to forcibly remove the refugees from the camps at the end of January, when it stopped humanitarian aid to the refugees due to financial constraints.

Asked about extending further humanitarian aid to the refugees, Kosapilawan said the refugees had agreed to earn their own living without any aid from the government.

"Many refugees have farmland near their camps, while many others have kiosks in traditional markets to help them to survive," he said, adding the government would not give medical assistance to the refugees.

At least 15 refugees, mostly children, have died and hundreds of others are undergoing treatment at public health centers, after suffering diarrhea and respiratory and skin diseases because of flooding in the province.

Kosapilawan said the local administration would evict the refugees from the camps should they fail to decide whether to go back home or to join the resettlement program.

Separately, Joanariao da Silva, a representative of refugees from Viqueque, East Timor, said in Tuapukan, 30 kilometers east of the city, that most of the refugees were keen to go back home but remained uncertain of the security situation in their home village in Viqueque.

"We will go back home after the situation (in East Timor) is conducive because East Timor is our homeland," he said.

Joao Bosco, a staff member of Uni Timor Aswain (Untas), concurred, saying they missed their homeland but they could not go home because of instability in the territory.

East Timor is expected to announce its independence in May and hold its maiden presidential election on June 20.

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