Subject: Indonesia to discuss Timor Gap with Australia and E Timor [+Refugees]

Also: 15 East Timorese refugees die from diseases in Kupang

The Jakarta Post Febraury 16, 2002

E. Timor refugees allowed to stay in camps until June

Yemris Fointuna, The Jakarta Post, Kupang

The government has extended its deadline for 128,000 East 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.

The Jakarta Post February 15, 2002

15 East Timorese refugees die from diseases in Kupang

Yemris Fointuna, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Thousands of East Timorese refugees are suffering from various diseases, such as diarrhea, malaria, skin irritations and respiratory problems at their makeshift camps in East Nusa Tenggara, which have left at least 15 of them dead.

Hundreds of sufferers, many of them in a critical condition, were confronted with difficulty in finding medicine, as health service posts had been closed after the government halted the supply of food assistance to the refugees early last month.

About 130,000 refugees are still stuck in the Tuapukan, Noelbaki and Naibonat camps in Kupang, the provincial capital of East Nusa Tenggara, despite the government's decision to halt the relief program.

Health volunteers working for the Cemara Movement of Indonesian Christian Students (GMKI) and the Indonesian Christian Youth Force Movement GAMKI) at the refugee camps said at least 15 people had died since early this year.

Meri Djami, 23, and Saly Bulan, 23, of the two nongovernmental organizations said the deaths were because of diarrhea, malaria and respiratory problems.

"Two of them have just died at the Naibonat camp for diarrhea. We are extremely shocked by the current conditions in which the refugees are living because the government is no longer maintaining their health services," Meri said.

Rofina Soares, 38, a former health volunteer with a foreign nongovernmental organization from the East Timor town of Viqueque -- who is among the refugees -- said most of the sufferers were children aged up to five years old, and elderly people.

"Various contagious diseases have begun to attack children and elderly people recently. Many sufferers have died probably due to their weakness after starving," he told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

A similar complaint was aired by another refugee, Joanario S. da Silva, 40, also from Viqueque. He said that since the relief had been stopped, he and his colleagues has been surviving on whatever they could find for food.

Joanario said the weak physical condition of refugees had made it easy for disease to spread, especially between children and elderly people.

"When we were still receiving food assistance and health services, we were rarely attacked by contagious diseases. But since early February, many children and elderly people have been complaining of getting sick," he said.

Many refugees at the three camps were observed on Thursday in a critical state, with their health continuing to deteriorate.

"My face and body have small spots which are a source of skin irritation. But I don't know where to get a medical treatment. My parent is frustrated because there is no medicine," four-year suffering child Manuel Pinto told The Post.

The refugees repeatedly refused to be repatriated to East Timor, saying they would return to their homeland after it had officially become an independent state in May.

Nor did they reject the Indonesian government's offer to join the resettlement programs to Sumatra, Sulawesi and Kalimantan.

It was not immediately clear why they had insisted on staying at the refugee camps.

Surrounding villagers have begun to voice annoyance at the refugees for refusing to leave the camps, which, they claimed, were built on their land.

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