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West Timor bishop tells Govt it's time to act on refugees

The bishop of Atambua in Indonesian West Timor says the Government needs to resolve the situation of East Timorese in refugee camps set up there in western Timor Island, or it may be faced with violence.

Bishop Antonius Pain Ratu warned that "if the government fails to address the problem, sooner or later a conflict between local people and East Timorese refugees will erupt."

His comments came in response to last month's joint statement of local district heads that called the central government to expedite the process of resettling East Timorese who want to be citizens of Indonesia and repatriating those who want to return to East Timor.

According to local figures current in January, about 25,200 East Timorese were still in West Timor. Refugee camps were set up on local people's land.

Meanwhile some 20,000 people of various faiths in West Timor have joined a program the local Catholic Church initiated as a Lenten campaign to reforest areas cleared by East Timor refugees.

Bishop Antonius launched the initiative with a Mass last week during which he blessed teak, cashew and mahogany saplings that people brought from home.

Religious and civic groups contributed about 10,000 such young trees. Afterwards, the bishop planted the first trees. He was joined by Hindu, Muslim and Protestant leaders, as well as by local government officials and legislative council members.

UCA News/UCA News

Reforestation of Wemer (Jesuit Refugee Service)
East Timor bishops seek Indonesian military help to repatriate refugees (19/2/02)
East Timor Bishop visits West Timor (30/5/01)
Displacement: the enormous suffering of those forced to leave their homes (OzSpirit)
Jesuit Refugee Service Indonesia

13 Mar 2003