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Timor: continuing tensions in Kupang area

Briefing notes

Timor: continuing tensions in Kupang area

7 July 2000

Four days after the resumption of aid activities, relief workers today stayed away from camps in West Timor's Kupang area amid continuing tensions between East Timorese refugees and local residents.

Yesterday, two refugees were injured in a clash outside Tuapukan camp where local residents armed with spears and machetes have set up a road barridade for a week. The blockade was mounted following the burning of a school outside Tuapukan. As a result of this and previous security incidents, residents demanded that the refugees be sent back to East Timor.

Because of the blockade, UNHCR and other aid agencies were unable to proceed to the camps today.

UNHCR decided on Tuesday to resume aid activities in the three major camps of Noelbaki, Tuapukan and Naimbonat after the Indonesian government agreed on Monday to a package of security measures. But UNHCR stressed that its continued presence in the camps would depend on a firm commitment by the government to implement the security measures UNHCR had proposed.

Aid activities in the camps had been suspended for two weeks after UNHCR staff and refugees were attacked last month.

UNHCR last night met with the top military commander in the area, requesting that swift measures be taken to dismantle the roadblocks.

At a meeting of UNHCR's standing committee yesterday in Geneva, François Fouinat, UNHCR's Director of the Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, emphasized that the current situation in the Kupang camps could have been avoided had Indonesian authorities taken determined action to pursue the commitments made to UNHCR last year - put order in the camps, separate trouble makers and clarify the status of former soldiers, police and civil servants. Implementation of these measures could have resulted in more refugees returning to East Timor, he said. Referring to a move by Indonesian authorities to transfer refugees to the Indonesian island of Weter off East Timor, Fouinat said any such movements should be voluntary and that there should be no mass deportation or forced resettlement.