Fitri & Arientha Primanita, Mataram – President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has ordered the acceleration of development in the impoverished province of East Nusa Tenggara, particularly for those people who fled East Timor following its independence from Indonesia in 1999.
Yudhoyono said on Friday that he recently visited Oebelo, a village in Kupang, the provincial capital, where many refugees resettled and which is now wracked by poverty and unemployment.
"By 2014, I want all existing problems to be solved. [The refugees] must have somewhere to live, because they have inhabited the area since 1999 with little money," the president said.
Officials have built 2,000 out of a proposed 5,600 homes for East Timor refugees who fled to Indonesia, with the remainder scheduled to be built this year. The Public Housing Ministry plans to build an additional 2,200 homes for the refugees but has given no details as to when the project will be completed.
Several groups have estimated that between 10,000 and 20,000 East Timorese reside in the Indonesian part of Timor Island, including 5,000 still living in temporary shelters and impoverished conditions.
Yudhoyono will make a working visit to East Timor today and Sunday, according to Teuku Faizasyah, a presidential spokesman on international relations.
"The visit of President Yudhoyono is in the framework of the commemoration of Timor Leste's 10th anniversary. We hope that it will strengthen the friendship and bilateral cooperation between Indonesia and Timor Leste," he said.
He added the visit was at the invitation of East Timor Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao. Relations between Indonesia and the former Portuguese colony – which was under Indonesian control from 1976 to 1999 – have been based on a forward-looking approach, Faizasyah said.
Yudhoyono is scheduled to hold a meeting today with Jose Ramos-Horta, the outgoing president, as well as meet with Gusmao and witness the signing of several memoranda of understanding between the two governments.
On Sunday, he is scheduled to attend the inauguration of president-elect Jose Maria Vasconcelos. Yudhoyono is also scheduled to visit the Santa Cruz cemetery, where Indonesian troops shot into a crowd of peaceful pro-independence demonstrators in 1991, killing at least 250 East Timorese.
[Additional reporting from AFP.]