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Timor: repatriation restarts

Briefing notes

Timor: repatriation restarts

9 May 2000

Around 200 East Timorese have left refugee camps controlled by pro-Indonesian elements since the weekend and are now at the UNHCR transit centre in the West Timor port of Kupang waiting for a ship that will repatriate them to East Timor.

This is the first significant movement from the Kupang camps over the past several weeks, although the number remains very low. The repatriation movement has ground to a halt in recent weeks, with only several hundred returning overland across the border since Easter.

On Friday, East Timorese opposing repatriation stoned a UNHCR-IOM team attempting to pick up around 100 returnees at a Kupang camp, damaging a vehicle. But today a former militia leader appeared before a large crowd of refugees and told them they are free to return home. This is the first time that a militia leader has publicly urged refugees to go back to East Timor.

The ex-militia leader who spoke this morning was Eurico Guterres, the notorious leader of the Itarak (Thorn) militia responsible for the violence in East Timor following the August 30 vote for independence. Two weeks ago he was arrested and briefly detained by Indonesian authorities in Kupang for illegally possessing a firearm.

The coming days will show whether those opposing repatriation will now allow refugees to return home freely. There is a lot of pressure on the refugees to repatriate. The Indonesian government has repeatedly said it does not have the resources to provide continued assistance to the refugees.