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Timor: UNHCR encouraged by President's statements

Briefing notes

Timor: UNHCR encouraged by President's statements

3 March 2000

Some 150,000 East Timorese refugees have voluntarily returned to East Timor since UNHCR's repatriation programme, with assistance from IOM, began on October 8. Over the last 48 hours, there have been four incidents of unexplained shootings along the border, apparently resulting in low numbers of returns yesterday (68) and today (94) between Atambua in West Timor and Batugade in East Timor.

But UNHCR is encouraged by statements from the Indonesian president during a visit to West Timor on Tuesday following his landmark trip to East Timor. President Wahid said he wants peace in East and West Timor and that all of the East Timorese in West Timor who wish to return to East Timor may do so freely. There are ex-militias among the 250,000 East Timorese who went into West Timor after the August 30 vote in East. They oppose repatriation. The Indonesians are aware this problem has to be resolved if voluntary returns in large numbers are to take place.

The Indonesian military agrees with the United Nations that the family reunions at the neutral zone along the border are helping the repatriation effort. The reunions are expected to resume tomorrow after the Indonesian military gave assurances that appropriate security measures will be put in place on the West Timor side of the border. UNHCR is closely watching the reunions, which ostensibly have helped increase the number of returns.