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October 1999, Volume 6, Number 10

Indonesia: Displaced

Internally Displaced. There are several separatist movements in Indonesia, including in East Timor and Sumatra, where the Free Aceh movement encouraged about 90,000 villagers to move into 61 refugee sites--schools, mosques, and warehouses--mainly on Aceh's north coast. By creating a refugee crisis, Free Aceh hopes to gain international sympathy for its cause and force a troop pull-out.

The Indonesian military, which launched a crackdown in Sumatra in May 1999 with 7,000 troops, attempts to prevent farmers from moving from their villages into refugee centers, which often lack supplies. However, once troops are spotted conducting searches in a village, Free Aceh sympathizers spread the word to local clerics to urge a quick, synchronized evacuation. Once in the camps, villagers are discouraged from returning home. In August, there were disputed reports of mass returns to villages.

The 850,000 residents of East Timor voted on August 30, 1999 for independence; about 80 percent of those who voted supported independence. Portugal ended its colonial rule of East Timor in 1975, Indonesia invaded and annexed East Timor in 1976, and at least 200,000 people were killed in the ensuing 24 years of fighting between pro-independence and pro-Indonesian militias. East Timor was the poorest of Indonesia's 27 provinces despite significant aid; per capita income was about $100 in 1997, compared to $300 in the rest of Indonesia.

After the vote for independence, local "militias" backed by the Indonesian army began killing Timorese, forcing the UN, which supervised the independence vote, to close its operations. Australia airlifted 2,000 East Timorese to safety in September and led a UN force into East Timor to restore order. The Timorese who were evacuated were housed in Darwin, the capital of Australia's Northern Territory, and given allowances of $27 a week for adults and $10 a week for children. The Australian government announced on September 9, 1999, that those fleeing East Timor can apply for a humanitarian visa in Australia, instead of offshore. The visa is similar to those the government gave to Kosovars, which allowed them a three-month stay in Australia. The Australian government said it expects the visa to be requested primarily from United Nations employees evacuating East Timor and that it is not intended for large groups of refugees.

Indonesia's economy, which shrank by 14 percent in 1998, is expected to shrink by two percent in 1999. US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright warned on September 26 that US aid to Indonesia will remain suspended until the Indonesian army stops colluding with militias against East Timorese in West Timorese refugee camps.


"Govt change to humanitarian visa arrangements," AAP Newsfeed, September 9, 1999. Margot Cohen, "Captives of The Cause," Far Eastern Economic Review, September 2, 1999. Karen Polglaze, "Indonesia a gateway to Australia for boat people," AAP Newsfeed, August 17, 1999. Debra Way, "Delegation to Indonesia to try and halt smugglers," AAP Newsfeed, August 17, 1999. "Australia seeks Indonesia's help to stem boatpeople tide," Agence France Presse, August 17, 1999.