Subject: JP: East Timorese refugees face food shortage

The Jakarta Post October 8, 2002

East Timorese refugees face food shortage

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Nearly 400 displaced East Timorese sheltering in West Timor have been forced to eat leaves for the past month as they cannot afford to buy rice, a government official says.

The government resettlement coordinator for Boneanak, Ali bin Don Dura, said on Monday that 388 people from 72 families living in Boneanak, West Kupang, would starve if the government did not provide immediate aid.

The refugees have been forced to eat leaves of kosambi, a plant the seed of which is commonly used as traditional herb medicines, Ali was quoted by Antara as saying.

"We have asked for a share of 250 tons of rice assistance from the Italian government given to the provincial and regency administrations, but to no avail."

He said the local administration had refused to provide the rice for bureaucratic reasons. The person in charge of approving rice distribution was in Jakarta while the Kupang social affairs office required approval before it could send the rice.

The local government had also rejected Ali's request because the East Timorese people in Boneanak were no longer considered refugees.

The Indonesian government stopped all official assistance to the refugees on Aug. 31.

Ali said the refugees had never received assistance from the provincial social affairs office since they arrived in Boneanak on April 18.

Boneanak is also home to 92 local families who are also facing a food shortage. Local residents have given 5,000 square meters of land to the refugees for farming.

"We have cleared the lands but it's difficult to obtain seedlings of corn or other produce. We hope the provincial agriculture office can provide us with some seedlings," Ali said.

The refugees had tried to earn money by selling coral reef, which fetched Rp 12,500 per cubic meter. Others ran grocery businesses but had been bankrupted due to bad debts.

Ali plans to seek help from local Wirasakti Military Command chief Col. Moeswarno Moesanip, who moved the refugees from temporary camps to Boneanak.

The number of East Timorese refugees sheltering in the province of East Nusa Tenggara stands at about 33,000, scattered throughout Kupang, Atambua, and districts in Flores, Alor and the Sumba islands.

They were part of around 250,000 people who fled the violence that followed a ballot which resulted in independence for East Timor in 1999.

East Timor President Xanana Gusmao is planning to visit the province for a second time to encourage the remaining refugees to return home and to accelerate the reconciliation process among the East Timorese.

The Indonesian representatives office in Dili, East Timor, reported that Xanana would visit Atambua and Kupang from Oct. 20 to Oct. 24.

"The refugees problem could pose a hurdle in the relations between the two countries but it can be resolved with Xanana's visit because the refugees can choose repatriation or resettlement to other regions in Indonesia," Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirajuda said.

He expected the East Timor refugee problems would be resolved by the end of the year.


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