Subject: JP: Hundreds of Indonesians in East Timor virtually stateless

Jakarta Post

May 22, 2004

Hundreds of Indonesians in East Timor virtually stateless

Hundreds of Indonesians living in East Timor are essentially stateless as they hold no documents of citizenship either from the Indonesian government or the government of East Timor.

To complicate matters for officials on both sides of the border, the Indonesians refuse to consider themselves Indonesians despite the fact that they have not been granted East Timor citizenship.

Head of the Representative Office of the Republic of Indonesia in Dili, Fauzi Bustami said that the Indonesians, who have since 1999 been living at the Annur Mosque compound in Kampung Alor, Dili, have long wanted to become citizens of their host country but are denied under the country's new citizenship law.

"They have repeatedly stated since 1999 that they wanted to become citizens of East Timor and so they've never bothered to apply for an Indonesian passport," Fauzi said.

East Timor was declared by the New Order regime in 1976 as Indonesia's 27th province and was considered part of Indonesia until 1999, when the former Portuguese colony voted to reject Jakarta's autonomy offer with the understanding that it would lead to independence during a the August 1999 United Nations-sponsored popular consultation.

After the vote, a handful of Indonesians chose to stay put, wishing to become citizens of the tiny, new country.

However, under the country's citizenship law enacted in 2002, only indigenous East Timorese are recognized as legitimate citizens, dashing the hopes of Indonesians there.

East Timorese are defined as those who are born there or whose parents were born in the newly established country.

The law also stipulates that foreigners who got married to East Timorese may apply for citizenship five years after the law went into effect, while for those who reside there permanently but are not married to a citizen, it is a 10-year wait.

Most of the "stateless" Indonesians, who are mostly working as traders, were born in Sumatra or Sulawesi. They belong to a Muslim tarekat, or group.

On April 7 this year, East Timorese authorities sealed the Annur Mosque compound, banning the tarekat members from leaving the compound and outsiders from entering the complex.

According to Fauzi, the East Timor immigration officials were conducting routine passport checks of all foreigners living in the country.

"But since almost none of the Indonesians in the compound have citizenship documents, passports or identification cards, they were banned from leaving the compound," Fauzi said, adding that the checks came just one day after local newspapers reported that over 300 Indonesians chose not to vote in Indonesia's April 5 general elections.

The compound was again opened up several days later after Indonesian diplomats in Dili held talks with East Timor authorities.

While tarekat members are now free to venture out of the complex, local authorities have stationed police personnel outside the compound, whose tasks include preventing non-tarekat members from entering the compound, with the exception being during prayer time.

According to Fauzi, his office has tried to help the tarekat members but they have rejected the offer, claiming that they were East Timor citizens.

"They don't consider themselves to be Indonesians, making it difficult for us to negotiate with the East Timor government," Fauzi said, adding that Indonesia would continue to recognize them as its citizens as long as they have not obtained East Timor citizenship.

"There are many Indonesians who got married to East Timorese and have chosen to stay. Many of them have no passports or any other documents of citizenship," Fauzi said.

The exact number of Indonesians in East Timor, however, remains unclear as the representative office was still in the process of registering them.

He also said many indigenous East Timor citizens were still holding valid Indonesian passports, including some parliamentary members and public officials.

"We have repeatedly appealed to them to surrender their Indonesian passports once they become public officials," Fauzi said without mentioning the names of the parliamentary members. -- Kanis Dursin

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