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Catholic Relief Services Responds to Indonesia and East Timor Crisis Update January 2000

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On the island of Timor - one half in Indonesia and the other half being the new country of East Timor - Catholic Relief Services is assisting refugees living in West Timor camps as well as people in East Timor. To help refugees in West Timor seeking to return home to East Timor but to afraid to make the journey, Catholic Relief Services is facilitating an "exchange" of inter-religious people between West Timor and East Timor. The purpose of the exchange enables participants to inform the refugees in the West Timor camps about the real situation in East Timor.
Many of the refugees living in West Timor are afraid to return to East Timor because they are given false information that the situation in East Timor is very unsafe and there is no food. The members of the inter-religious group were well received in the West Timor camps, having just returned from East Timor. Many of the camp residents expressed their desire to return to East Timor after talking to the group.

Personal Story

During a recent trip to East Timor, Country Representative for Catholic Relief Services in Indonesia, Mike Frank, visited Aitelari, a village in the highlands outside of Bacau. The leader of the village is named Antonio. Antonio described how all the villagers had to flee during the militia forces' rampage. Most refugees have returned but there are still many stuck in camps in West Timor. Antonio explained that, "We have our freedom now but we will not be happy until our families are reunited."

Working with Local Organizations

Our biggest challenge in East Timor is to assist our local partners in building up their capacities so they can resume critical development activities. Our partners suffered serious losses - their offices were destroyed, vehicles were stolen or destroyed, their bank accounts were frozen, and their staff fled during the mayhem. The future of East Timor rests with these local organizations. Catholic Relief Services is committed to assisting the Timorese organizations so that they will resume their position as primary providers of grass roots development.

In West Timor the agency's biggest challenge is to assist refugees who wish to return to East Timor actually make the trip. For those wishing to remain, it is imperative that we work hand in hand with the local population in finding longer-term solutions.

Background of the Situation

The respected moderate Muslim leader Abdurrahman Wahid has begun his term as Indonesia's fourth president with the opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri as vice president. The same Assembly that elected the president and "Mega" also voted to accept the pro-independence results of the East Timor referendum.

East Timor, as a new nation, is starting from scratch. From a Portuguese colony to an Indonesian province, East Timor has seen 200,000 people killed in its land over the last 25 years. Now as a newly independent nation, it has no government, no laws, no civil service, and no police. Adding to this, its infrastructure has been devastated by the militias that reacted in fury when the East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence.

At the end of October, the Security Council created the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor or UNTAET to help run East Timor for the next several years. In Dili and in other towns of East Timor, shelter still remains a critical need for those returning. Food, water, wood and building materials for shelter - the basic necessities of life - are still in very short supply. Up to 75 percent of the homes in some towns have been damaged.

Copyright=A91999 CRS