Subject: AFP: Pilot resettlement project for East Timorese

Source: Agence France-Presse (AFP) Date: 15 Jan 2003

 Pilot project to resettle East Timorese in eastern Indonesian island

JAKARTA, Jan 15 (AFP) - A pilot project to resettle former East Timorese refugees on the eastern Indonesian island of Sumba is expected to begin early this year, UN refugee officials said Wednesday.

At least seven communities in western Sumba have expressed interest in receiving a small number of the estimated 28,000 East Timorese who remain in Indonesian West Timor, said Fernando Protti-Alvarado, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) assistant regional representative.

As of January 1, the East Timorese are no longer considered refugees, meaning they do not get Indonesian or UNHCR assistance to return to their former homeland.

"We feel that in the short to longer-term it's better if the... caseload is resettled away from West Timor and away from the border to avoid potential problems in the future," Robert Ashe, the UNHCR's regional representative, told reporters.

Protti-Alvarado, speaking at the same press conference, said because most of the 28,000 are expected to remain in Indonesia, the UNHCR is supporting efforts to resettle the East Timorese elsewhere in the archipelago. The west Sumba village of Denduka has committed to taking 70 East Timorese families in the pilot project, Protti-Alvarado said.

About 300 local families, most of them Protestant, currently farm and raise cattle, he said.

As many as 300 Catholic East Timorese families, or about 1,500 people, could eventually be resettled in the west Sumba communities, Protti-Alvarado said. "It's risky in terms that it has not been tested," Protti-Alvarado acknowledged. "The good thing is that we have government support in terms of trying to reduce the potential for conflict."

Many West Timorese became fed up with the lengthy presence of East Timorese, blaming the outsiders for violence and theft. Jealousy also arose as refugees were given continued assistance.

About 250,000 East Timorese fled or were forced across the border in late 1999 during an orgy of murder, arson, looting and destruction by Indonesian security forces and the militias they created, in retaliation for East Timor's vote for independence.

Of the 28,000 who remain in West Timor, many are former government employees, police or soldiers and their families.

Those who choose to resettle in Sumba will receive household supplies, food for up to nine months, and UNHCR and Indonesian assistance in building their new houses, Protti-Alvarado said.

The host community itself will also receive funding based on the number of families it accepts, he said.

Ashe said many of the East Timorese in West Timor have "begun to put down roots" and only a minority have expressed interest in moving. But he said if the Sumba experiment works it could encourage others to start a new life elsewhere in the country.

East Timor became independent May 20 after a period of UN stewardship. Sumba is part of East Nusa Tenggara province and is located about 300 kilometres (186 miles) from West Timor.

it/bs/lg AFP Copyright (c) 2003 Agence France-Presse Received by NewsEdge Insight: 01/15/2003 04:55:43

Diane Farsetta, national field organizer East Timor Action Network: 10 Years for Self-Determination & Justice ETAN field office Social Justice Center office 608-663-5431 1202 Williamson St cell 608-347-4598 Madison, WI 53703 home 608-255-4598 fax 608-227-0141

Check out these internet sites! the East Timor Action Network/US Madison, WI - East Timor projects Madison's Social Justice Center

"Never hesitate, don't be afraid of human rights. We should uphold human rights while at the same time conforming with the regulations in force. If you are afraid of human rights, you will never be able to do anything." -- General Endriartono Sutarto, Chief of the Indonesian military, April 2002

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