Subject: W. Timorese farmers demand return of land used by E. Timor refugees refugees

Received from Joyo Indonesian News

The Jakarta Post February 8, 2002

Villagers protest over E. Timor refugees

Yemris Fointuna, The Jakarta Post, Kupang

Possible clashes are looming between East Timorese refugees and Indonesian farmers seeking to reclaim land used to accommodate the refugees on the border of West Timor and East Timor.

About 130,000 refugees have refused to choose between returning to East Timor or resettling in Indonesia as part of the government's transmigration program.

Food and other aid to the refugees, living in the area for three years, has been stopped since Jan. 1.

They vowed to leave the refugee camps in May after East Timor officially became an independent state. The refugees have broken an earlier promise to return to their homeland last year.

Recently, many villagers in the East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) border area have protested, demanding local authorities return land used by the refugees.

The protesters, all farmers, complained of a loss of income since the refugee camps were built on their land in 1999. They also raised legal ownership of the land issues.

In a response to the case, Udayana Military Commander Maj. Gen. Williem T da Costa, overseeing security in NTT and Bali, said he agreed that the issues should be resolved soon.

Speaking during a meeting with refugees at Tuapukan and Noelbaki camps on Wednesday, he told them to leave the accommodation centers immediately.

The camps would be demolished in May, he said.

"They have to decide on their stance whether to return to East Timor or stay with Indonesia by joining transmigration programs."

The refugees, offered resettlement on the islands of Sumatra, Sulawesi or Kalimantan, can also stay within NTT, but they must find land by themselves to build houses or plantations, Williem said.

Only a small number of refugees have bought or rented houses in the NTT capital of Kupang or other towns in the province, while most of the 130,000 still stay at the camps in the Kupang, south and north central Timor and Belu regencies.

Kupang's Wirasakti Military Commander Col. Moeswarno Moesanip said only 50 families had left their camps but their whereabouts was not clear.

He said some of the departing refugees were allegedly involved in manipulating aid packages intended for the refugees.

Williem said the refugees could demolish their camps and bring the building materials with them when they were resettled.

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