Indonesia + 1 more

Indonesia: Situation in East/West Timor, sectarian violence elsewhere

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Since militias backed by the Indonesian armed forces wreaked havoc upon East Timor (now being referred to as Timor Larosae) following an overwhelming vote in favor of independence from Indonesia, hundreds of thousands of East Timorese seek to rebuild their shattered lives. As the emergency phase of relief assistance to the island of Timor (both to devastated East Timor as well as to West Timor, which is still Indonesian territory and which still housing 110,000 refugees) has begun to wind down, many NGOs have begun to focus on post-conflict rehabilitation through a variety of projects. UNHCR continues to extract refugees from camps in West Timor who have expressed a desire to return to East Timor.
It has become clear in the aftermath of the devastation in East Timor that more than 75 percent of the population had been displaced and more than 70 percent of all private housing, public buildings and utilities had been destroyed by pro-Indonesia militias. Of the pre-referendum population of more than 800,000 people, approximately half a million fled into the hilly interior of East Timor and a further 250,000 had been forcibly deported to refugee camps in West Timor. To date, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimate that 141,000 refugees have returned to East Timor while a further 110,000 remain in Indonesian West Timor. UNHCR and the Indonesian government have estimated that of the displaced population, some 50,000 vulnerable East Timorese refugees may untimately decide to remain in Indonesia and, in a plan supported by UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan, may be transmigrated to five other regions of Indonesia. UNHCR is working closely with the Indonesian government to ensure the voluntary return (or resettlement) of refugees.

Of the 1,500 East Timorese airlifted to Darwin, Australia (and later transferred to holding centers in Perth, Sydney and
Melbourne), 921 have returned, according to IOM.

UNHCR has yet to achieve unhindered access to certain refugee camps in West Timor. Their efforts to extract refugees from the camps and return them to East Timor are often done under tense circumstances. Although the sitatuion is not as bad as in recent months, in some camps militia members are still intimidating the refugees to prevent their return to East Timor. In some cases, UNHCR staff members have been the target of militia violence.

UNHCR currently runs an information campaign through radio networks, newspapers and pamphlets to educate the refugees about the real security conditions in East Timor.

Conditions in the West Timorese camps continue to deteriorate, especially following flooding due to the current monsoon season.

Recent reports suggest that over 700 people, most pregnant women and children, have died from various illnesses. Experts from the USA-based Centers for Disease Control have arrived in West Timor to asses the situation and should issue a report soon. UNHCR cannot confirm the reports of deaths because of their very limited access to camps. In West Timor, UNHCR's main activity remains voluntary repatriation of refugees, although they are working under pressing time contraints given West Timor Governor Piet A. Tallo's recent remarks that refugees will be required to decide whether to remain or to repatriate before the end of March. Militia members remain commingled among other East Timorese refugees even though UNHCR has repeatedly called upon the Indonesians to separate them.

In East Timor, the United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor (UNTAET) continues to aid in rebuilding the territory's infrastructure and create a working government. Tensions have arisen, however, between expatriate UN staff and East Timorese who currently experience an 80 percent unemployment rate. Many East Timorese have complained of discrimination in terms of wages, work conditions and living conditions. The increase in visibly wealthier expatriate UN staff and the dollarization of the economy have accompanied increasing inflation. In any case, the East Timorese seem to be squarely behind their leaders Mr. JosÚ Alexandre "Xanana" Gusao, Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, and Jose Ramos-Horta.

Elsewhere in Indonesia

Sectarian violence continues to claim lives in other area of Indonesia. Violence continues in Ambon (Spice Islands), displacing thousands of people who have sought refuge in military compounds.

Violence recently spread to the tourist island of Lombok, near Bali, after rallies in support of Moslems in Ambon turned violent. Churches and convents were burned and Christian homes looted and destroyed. This month, religious violence struck the normally peaceful cultural city of Yogyakarta in Central Java when another rally in support of Moslems in Ambon turned sour. Churches, a convent, and a Catholic University were attacked and burned.

In Aceh, calls for a referendum continue while Indonesian President Wahid attempts to cool the situation. See "Political
History of Aceh" at http://www.refugees.org/news/crisis/indonesia/aceh.htm for more information.

USCR Policy Analyst Jana Mason will give a briefing on her findings from recent field work in Aceh, Lombo, and East
and West Timor and recommendations to help those already uprooted and prevent future refugee flows on Thursday,
February 24th at 3:30pm in the USCR conference room at 1717 Massachusetts Ave., NW Suite 200, Washington, DC.

This is open to the public and you are welcome.

For more details email uscr@irsa-uscr.org

To learn more about USCR, visit our website at: <http://www.refugees.org>