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Call for intervention in West Timor ...

Call for intervention inW est Timor ...

Caritas Aotearoa
Media release

FOOD AID NOT ENOUGH: BISHOP CALLS FOR UN PRESENCE IN WEST TIMOR

23rd September 1999

Bishop Pain Ratu of Atambua, West Timor, is pleading for an extension of the UN mandate to the whole of the island of Timor, in order to prevent further massive slaughter of innocent civilians.

"It has become essential for the international community to foresee the humanitarian problem on the whole island of Timor, not just East Timor alone", the Bishop states.

Bishop Ratu asks that the United Nations, as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) be allowed access to West Timor. He points to the dire security problems in West Timor, where there are about 150,000 East Timorese refugees as well as a significant presence of militia, and military who have relocated from East Timor. Bishop Ratu stresses that it is essential for the safety of the refugees that the UN and humanitarian agencies come to West Timor to "guarantee the security, humanitarian needs, and the free right of refugees to return to their place of origin if they wish to do so".

The Bishop expresses fears for the future of the East Timorese refugees, as they face possible forced relocation by the Indonesian government in West Timor and in other parts of Indonesia, where they are at risk of reprisal by militia and military. His fears follow the recent announcement by the Indonesian Minister for Transmigration, Lieutenant-General A. M. Hendropriyono who has stated that he plans to resettle the refugees within Indonesia - two-thirds of them in West Timor, and the rest on other eastern islands. The Bishop fears that the East Timorese refugees will not be allowed to go back to their homes in East Timor, and that they will be a target for the militias in the area who wish to wreak revenge on them for their vote for independence and their plea for UN intervention.

Aid agencies operating in the region are backing up the Bishop's call for the security situation in West Timor to be urgently addressed. Caritas USA (Catholic Relief Services), the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) and USAID, among others, are calling for the UN to do more in West Timor to protect the displaced East Timorese. They call for UN assistance to ensure that:

The registration of East Timorese refugees is stopped for at least one month (to prevent forced resettlement outside of East Timor, within West Timor and Indonesia itself). The safe passage of people back to East Timor is guaranteed for those wishing to return. The establishment of major camps or resettlement schemes is delayed until it is clear that the decision to resettle has not been forced.

Caritas Aotearoa NZ spokesperson, Peter Zwart, says he is very concerned that the message of Bishop Ratu and Caritas USA is being buried beneath an overriding concentration on food aid. "Caritas and other agencies are distributing aid to those displaced people in West Timor that they can gain access to. But many displaced people in the region are being held hostage and it is impossible to get aid to them, or to find out what is happening to them. The international community has a responsibility to ensure that the East Timorese are safe and that they are able to return home as soon as is possible. It is vital that this happens alongside immediate aid relief".

ENDS

CONTACT: Peter Zwart, Caritas, ph dd 64 4 496 1775

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