12 May 2009

Returning IDPs rejected by villagers in East Timor

DILI, 11 May 2009 (IRIN) - Most of the people displaced in Timor-Leste by the violence of 2006 have returned home but for many, the biggest obstacle, apart from rebuilding their homes and lives, is making peace with the communities they left behind.

In April 2006, disaffected army troops clashed with pro-government soldiers in the capital Dili, triggering violence that forced up to 150,000 people to seek refuge in camps across the country.

Tensions between internally displaced persons (IDPs) and the communities they left behind are usually settled by village meetings.

But for one community on the outskirts of Dili, the return process has proved unusually tricky.

While disagreements in other communities have been laid to rest, residents of three aldeias (sub villages) in Camea still refuse to allow the IDPs who fled in 2006 to return home.

"If we let the IDPs back here there will be no guarantee for our safety. The conflict here predates the crisis of 2006. We still don't want them back," Antonio Ribeiro, the village chief of Camea, told IRIN.

About 500 people gathered to take part in the latest community meeting for villagers to discuss the reintegration of IDPs into the community in April.

The meeting was initiated by President Jose Ramos-Horta with the Ministry of Social Solidarity (MSS) and UN Development Programme (UNDP).

An MSS-UNDP dialogue team has held four meetings in the village, but the locals have so far stood their ground.

About 150 families have yet to be reintegrated into the Camea community and while the problem exists elsewhere, in other places it has been resolved.

Presidential input

"It was helpful to have the president there because at least people understand that this problem is being [addressed]," UNDP's project manager, Jose M Cabral Belo, said.

"The president was trying to open the people's minds about how beautiful living together can be," he said.

Ramos-Horta called on the community to resolve their differences with the IDPs before saying there would have to be further discussion between all the parties involved, including the IDPs, who were not at the meeting in Camea.

Belo added, "It was a good message delivered by the president to the community. He promised to have a separate dialogue with the parties. Hopefully the involvement of the president will help people to change their minds, sit together and try to compromise on the matter."

Belo thinks the conflict can be resolved, but will take time. Part of the problem is that the village is near a busy trading zone.

"They have specific problems related to land disputes and also the behaviour of the IDPs before the crisis. There were disputes between the IDPs and people who brought down vegetables and other local products from the hills to the market. Most of the IDPs are business people and so there were disagreements about prices," he explained.

Some of the IDPs are staying in transitional housing provided by the government while others are still living in the last remaining major IDP camp in Timor-Leste - Metinaro - which houses an estimated 9,000-plus people just outside Dili.

The camp has been a particular problem for the government, with the return operation constantly postponed after numerous delays in the process of verifying the state of IDPs' homes and therefore their entitlement to resettlement packages.

Amandio Freitas, director for social assistance at the MSS, told IRIN: "It's very difficult. Metinaro is the biggest camp in Timor-Leste. According to the registration list there are more than 1,000 families living there."

For now, the residents of Camea and the IDPs eager to return home must wait for yet another dialogue to be initiated. mc/ds/mw [ENDS]

Image added by ETLJB: After months and in many cases years living in IDP camps, East Timorese returning to their home villages are finding that the tensions from 2006 are still strong giving rise to continuing conflict.

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