Subject: AFP: East Timor's refugees pin hopes on new government
East Timor's refugees pin hopes on new government
Nelson da Cruz
DILI, June 26 2007
Alianca da Costa nurses her young daughter at a makeshift camp in East Timor's violence-scarred capital and hopes that a new government to be elected this week might mean they can finally go home.
Da Costa and her 18-month-old toddler are among some 100,000 refugees, according to UN estimates, still seeking shelter in predominantly Catholic East Timor after violence on Dili's streets last year.
At least 37 people were killed and the half-island's population of one million left reeling as previously ignored ethnic divisions reared their head.
"I will be very glad to go to the polling station on June 30... to pick a new government which we all hope will be able to put an end to the suffering we have experienced for the past 18 months," says the married mother of six.
While her home was not damaged in the unrest, da Costa says she is too afraid to return as rival martial arts gangs still intermittently clash nearby.
East Timor's voters are to choose representatives for its 65-seat parliament on Saturday, with competition between the ruling party, Fretilin, and the new party created by former guerrilla fighter Xanana Gusmao, the National Congress for the Reconstruction of East Timor (CNRT), expected to be tight.
They follow presidential elections last month, which saw Gusmao's political ally and Nobel peace laureate Jose Ramos-Horta defeat Fretilin's candidate, Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres, by 69 to 31 percent in the second of two rounds.
Ramos-Horta replaced Fretilin's Mari Alkatiri as premier when he was forced to step down in the wake of last year's unrest. Alkatiri had sacked some 600 soldiers who deserted over allegations of racism within the ranks, a move which sparked the violence and forced thousands to flee their homes in fear.
International peacekeepers were called in to help restore order, and they, along with UN police, are charged with security, while East Timor's police are gradually brought back on board.
Underlying tensions still simmer but campaigning has been largely peaceful.
Da Costa wants the new government to focus on maintaining calm.
"I hope that the winning political party will be able to lead the country well and bring changes -- and not bring on a new crisis over regionalism," she says, referring to the east-west divisions exploited by leaders last year.
"The most important thing is that it should be able to bring peace and stability."
Nearly 7,300 people are still living at this convent cum camp, says Antero Amaral, an official managing the shelter. Most eke a living by selling things such as wood for cooking stoves and fruits and vegetables.
They are among an estimated 20,000 refugees in Dili and 100,000 nationwide, though no formal registration process has ever been carried out and the numbers can widely fluctuate, a senior UN official said.
"Most of the refugees who do not want to return home are those whose houses were torched during the crisis in April and May last year," Amaral says.
"They fear the racial tensions... the tensions that led to the torching of their homes."
The refugees who fear the violence of the gangs mostly only come at night.
At the camp, clothing is draped on lines between trees, over shrubs and over the barbed wire fence. Tarpaulins being used as tents are marked with the fading name of their donor and plastered with stickers advertising EU aid and a ballot paper specimen for the polls.
The leftist Democratic Party is the only party with flags on display, one spread on a library window and the other hanging in a doorway, though there are no rules banning campaigning at the camps.
Another refugee, Zulmira "Sirana" da Cruz, is a Fretilin party worker and member and she too had to flee her home last year.
She seems resigned to the waning popularity of the party which has dominated the government since East Timor became Asia's youngest -- and poorest -- nation in 2002.
"If Fretilin loses, this is a democracy and we should all accept this defeat. But we will become a strong, quality opposition in parliament," da Cruz vowed, adding that her political leanings have not been an issue at the camp.
Domingos Pereira, a retired hospital worker sheltering here, echoed her.
"What we all want actually is for everything to proceed calmly and without fraud, and that the results are accepted by all without being marred by violence," he says, fanning himself in the stifling heat of noon.
Agence France Presse -- English
June 26, 2007 Tuesday 7:44 AM GMT
Months for East Timor's refugee crisis to end: UN
JAKARTA, June 26 2007
East Timor's top UN official warned Tuesday that it would take months to resolve the refugee crisis in the troubled nation, where an estimated 10 percent of the population remain in camps.
Atul Khare, the UN secretary-general's special representative to East Timor, said that the issues keeping refugees at makeshift camps, mostly in convents and monasteries in the mostly Roman Catholic nation, were complex.
"I do see IDPs (internally displaced people) continuing to remain a challenge for the new government, the new parliament and the new president to deal with, well into the next year," he told a press briefing in the Indonesian capital Jakarta.
East Timor's one million people vote in parliamentary elections on Saturday.
"It is not a short-term fix, it is a medium or longish-to-medium term challenge that we are facing," he said.
The refugee issue related not only to security, but also unemployment, complex land and property laws and the loss of an estimated 2,500 homes destroyed in last year's unrest, he said.
East Timor's government and the UN planned to launch another consolidated appeal to help the refugees some time next month, he added.
No formal registration has yet taken place, Khare said, but the UN believed around 100,000 people were staying in the camps, though some make short trips home or stay only in the camps at night.
Of these, about 20,000 were in Dili and the remainder were in the districts, he said, adding that a registration process was expected to soon get underway.
The refugees fled their homes in the aftermath of street violence last year that left about 37 people dead.
The unrest was triggered by the government's sacking of some 600 soldiers who had deserted the army complaining of discrimination, and degenerated into factional streetfights among the security forces and gangs.