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Former Timorese refugees ask government to honor pledge

Jakarta Post - December 5, 2006

Yemris Fointuna, Kupang – Former East Timorese living in West Timor, East Nusa Tenggara, rallied at the local provincial administration office in Kupang on Monday, urging the government to compensate them for the assets they left behind in East Timor in 1999.

They demanded that the central government be clear and fair in its handling of Rp 72 billion (US$7.57 million) earmarked for 5,000 heads of families.

The protesters said Indonesia gave empty promises to up to 100,000 of them, then left them without assistance. They fled East Timor when it voted to become the independent nation of Timor Leste in 1999.

"We're still living in makeshift tents... sleeping on the ground and eating whatever is available. Our fate has been neglected. All assistance has been halted at a time when we have no land for farming," said Sartino da Silva, one of the former refugees.

"We've left our houses and belongings in East Timor, but now we live in a poor state. The government apparently pays attention only to refugees in other places and neglects us," said Sarino, who now lives in Noelbaki village in Kupang regency.

Sarino added that the government appeared to be applying a double standard, giving limited assistance in some places while leaving thousands to live in tents in others.

"The refugees in Belu, Timor Tengah Utara and Timor Tengah Selatan regencies have been given funds, but we here in Kupang get nothing," he said.

The head of East Nusa Tenggara's social service office, Frans Salem, said the protesters' status as refugees had been revoked in 2002. Therefore, he said, the goverment would dole out money from the fund only to those who owned property.

"For the former refugees in Kupang, the government will provide them assistance as long as they already have their own land," he said. As far as assets left in Timor Leste, Frans said that was a matter for the central government, not the local administration.

A member of the East Nusa Tenggara Legislative Council, Melkianus Adoe, said the government should not leave the former refugees in limbo because the fate of their children was at stake.

"Don't leave them to live without any future. The government should have moved them out of their temporary accommodation center and provided them with housing facilities for the sake of a better future," he added.