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Timor Emergency Update

Timor Emergency Update

1 November 1999

Plea for Access

UNHCR's Regional Representative, Rene Van Rooyen, on Friday called on Megawati Sukarnoputri, the newly installed Vice President of Indonesia.

During the meeting, Van Rooyen reiterated UNHCR's request for full access to camps in West Timor, which the government says host 219,000 refugees from East Timor.

The Vice President expressed support for UNHCR programmes for Timorese refugees.

Although UNHCR has been able to conduct repatriation from West Timor, it has only limited access to the camps because of the presence of militia groups. The people who have returned to East Timor came mainly from refugee centres in church compounds and government-controlled facilities in the West Timor capital of Kupang. After these facilities were cleared of refugees last week, the number of returnees substantially dropped. On Monday, around 300 refugees were waiting to be transported from the transit centre in Kupang, down from a peak of 4,500 several days ago.

The transit centre in Kupang was set up to allow refugees from other camps in West Timor, particularly those controlled by militias, to gather to register and arrange for transport to East Timor. A second transit centre has been opened in Atambua, where UNHCR last week began transporting refugees from the nearby port of Atapupu to Dili. Since Friday, two ferries have transported 2,634 refugees in three trips each to Dili.

UNHCR meanwhile has welcomed the completion of Indonesia's troop withdrawals from East Timor. UNHCR hopes this will pave the way for accelerated repatriation. The last Indonesian soldiers slipped out of the Dili harbour before midnight Sunday, ending 24 years of military occupation. Indonesian troop strength was 25,000 in East Timor before the deployment of an international force on September 20.

East Timor

UNHCR staff are arranging for an assistance programme at Oekusi in Ambeno, an East Timor enclave in the northern midsection of West Timor. Oekusi used to be the capital of the Portuguese colony until it was moved to Dili in 1769. It was devastated during the militia rampage following the August 30 referendum on East Timor.

The UNHCR staff found around 1,800 returnees at the Oekusi church, the only building left standing in the area, but local authorities say they have registered 4,200 returnees. The authorities say an average of 300 Timorese return daily but the bulk of the estimated 50,000 residents there remain in the surrounding hills in West Timor.