Subject: W. Timor Catholic Church prepares to aid fleeing East Timor refugees

Catholic Church prepares to aid fleeing East Timor refugees 5/10/2006


ATAMBUA, Indonesia (UCAN) ­ With thousands of people having fled East Timor's capital in the wake of violence related to a protest by dismissed soldiers, the church and government across the Indonesian border in West Timor have prepared to shelter refugees.

Divine Word Bishop Antonius Pain Ratu of Atambua told UCA News recently that the Catholic Church would offer places such as churches and convent buildings for use by refugees in the event of a widespread exodus. Atambua, capital of Belu district, is 2,000 kilometers (about 1,250 miles) east of Jakarta.

"We will welcome them as human beings, but will also prevent them from becoming a burden to people living here," the bishop said.

Joachim Lopez, head of Belu district, told UCA News that local government officials have agreed to provide shelters for refugees in border areas such as Motaain village and the subdistricts of Raihat and Central Malaka.

The local government, he said, would coordinate with and ask help from NGOs as well as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration if a refugee situation developed.

Major Aziz Mahmudi, a spokesperson of the border areas security force, told UCA News his personnel have tightened security measures especially at border posts, such as Motaain and Metamauk, 90 kilometers (about 55 miles) south of Atambua. "We are not increasing our personnel, but Indonesian soldiers who are now in Atambua will be assigned to the border posts," he elaborated.

As of May 8, according to statistics from the border post at Motaain, 609 people had crossed the border after fleeing Dili since late April. The highest number was recorded on May 4 evening when 86 Indonesians, eight East Timorese, two Americans and one South Korean came into Indonesia.

An official from the border post, who asked not to be named, told UCA News the Indonesians mostly are from Atambua and have been staying in Dili for a couple of years selling household appliances for a living.

The official, who has been working at the post for six years, also said that many people have arrived in Atabae and Batugade villages, which are about 10 and three kilometers respectively from the border post.

Some of them told UCA News that they fled Dili because of fear of possible attack by hundreds of dismissed soldiers.

In February, 591 soldiers were dismissed after they protested against alleged discrimination. These Kaladi, a term referring to people from the western part of East Timor, made up a third of the army, whereas most army personnel are Firaku, from the east. The easterners, it is claimed, were the backbone of the resistance against Indonesian rule during the 1980s and 1990s.

Army protesters and their sympathizers took to the streets of the capital April 28-29 with calls for the reinstatement of the dismissed soldiers.

According to media reports, five people died in the rioting, 20 houses were burned and a market in Taibessi, around seven kilometers (about four miles) southeast of Dili, was badly damaged. The protesters also broke windows of the government palace.

A Catholic nun who fled Dili on the night of May 5 told UCA News: "Dili town is getting fearful. People feel safe only during daytime, but they are frightened and try to look for safe places to spend nights." The nun, who asked not to be named, said people often heard gunfire at night.

The Daughters of the Rosary Queen nun said her convent was accommodating about 1,000 people. Besides convent buildings, she added, people also sought refuge in the cathedral and other buildings of Dili diocese as well as the U.S. Embassy.

Another 8,000 people reportedly took refuge at Salesian-run Don Bosco center, a skills training center located 10 kilometers (about six miles) west of the city.

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