Timor: first repatriation since murders
A boatload of 410 East Timorese, comprising civil servants and soldiers previously employed by the Indonesian government and their families, left the West Timor port of Kupang today for East Timor. This is the first repatriation carried out by UNHCR since the murders of its three staff members in the Indonesian half of the island on September 6 that prompted the departure of 400 aid workers.
Assisted by the representatives of the International Organization for Migration and the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor, a UNHCR team screened the returnees to determine if the process was voluntary. The Indonesian government paid the returnees their pensions and they went on a last minute shopping spree to take advantage of the comparatively low prices of goods in Kupang compared to East Timor before they boarded the IOM ferry.
The vessel left Kupang at 4 p.m. local time for the eastern port of Com in East Timor, where it is expected to arrive later on Wednesday. They will then be transported to their original homes in Los Palos and Viqueque.
West Timor remains under the highest UN security alert and is off limits to UN personnel. This was imposed following the murders in the West Timor border town of Atambua. Today's operation was a time-limited activity approved to carry out arrangements previously agreed on.
The first large group of demobilized soldiers and their families, numbering around 800, returned to East Timor earlier this year. These people were among more than 2,000 East Timorese soldiers and police who left East Timor in the violent aftermath of the August 30, 1999 vote for independence.
The resumption of full activities of UNHCR and other international aid workers to West Timor still hinges on the recommendation of a UN Security Council mission which visited Indonesia last week. The mission looked into the progress of Jakarta's compliance with conditions the Security Council has set for the return of aid workers in the Indonesian province. This means Indonesia has to bring to justice the people behind the killings in Atambua and disarm and dismantle the militia groups operating in West Timor.
An estimated 100,000 East Timorese remain in some 200 refugee sites in West Timor. Another 170,000 East Timorese have returned to East Timor since October 1999.