Diocese prepares to aid fleeing East Timor refugees

The Church and government in Indonesia's West Timor border region are preparing for a possible refugee influx in the wake of the violence and displacement of people following the protest last month by dismissed soldiers in East Timor.

UCA News reports that Divine Word Bishop Antonius Pain Ratu of Atambua, Belu, 2,000km east of Jakarta, said that the Church would offer places such as churches and convent buildings for use by refugees in the event of a widespread exodus.

"We will welcome them as human beings, but will also prevent them from becoming a burden to people living here," the Bishop said.

Joachim Lopez, head of Belu district, told UCA News that local government officials have agreed to provide shelters for refugees in border areas such as Motaain village and the subdistricts of Raihat and Central Malaka.

The local government, he said, would coordinate with and ask help from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) as well as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration if a refugee situation developed.

Major Aziz Mahmudi, a spokesperson of the border areas security force, told UCA News his personnel have tightened security measures especially at border posts, such as Motaain and Metamauk. "We are not increasing our personnel, but Indonesian soldiers who are now in Atambua will be assigned to the border posts," he elaborated.

According to statistics from the border post at Motaain, as of this week 609 people had crossed the border after fleeing Dili following the violence.

According to UCA News, an official from the border post said the Indonesians are mostly from Atambua and have been staying in Dili for a couple of years selling household appliances for a living.

In February, 591 soldiers were dismissed after they protested against alleged discrimination. These Kaladi, a term referring to people from the western part of East Timor, made up a third of the army, whereas most army personnel are Firaku, from the east.

Army protesters and their sympathisers took to the streets of the capital in late April with calls for the reinstatement of the dismissed soldiers.

According to media reports, five people died in the rioting, 20 houses were burned and a market in Taibessi, around seven kilometres southeast of Dili, was badly damaged. The protesters also broke windows of the government palace.

A Daughters of the Rosary Queen nun said her convent was accommodating about 1,000 people seeking refuge. Another 8,000 people reportedly took refuge at Salesian-run Don Bosco Centre located 10km west of Dili.

Catholic Church prepares to aid fleeing East Timor refugees (Union of Catholic Asian News/Catholic Online 10/5/06)

East Timor Catholic leaders appeal for calm after riot (CathNews 5/5/06)
Thousands shelter in Catholic centres after East Timor riots (CathNews 3/5/06)
West Timor bishop tells Govt it's time to act on refugees (CathNews 13/3/03)

Catholic leaders urge calm in East Timor amid riots (The Universe 8/5/06)

11 May 2006