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West Timor: first UNHCR activity since murders

Briefing notes

West Timor: first UNHCR activity since murders

10 November 2000

In a meeting Thursday in Denpasar, Indonesia, which was attended by representatives of the Indonesian Army, UNTAET and the International Organisation for Migration, UNHCR agreed to help repatriate 450 East Timorese enlisted in the Indonesian army on November 16. The number includes 65 family members. An IOM ship will pick up the returnees after a UNHCR team has talked to them and ascertained that the repatriation is voluntary. This will be the first UNHCR activity in West Timor since the murders of three staff members in the border town of Atambua on September 6 and the subsequent departure of 400 aid workers.

Of the original 2,800 East Timorese soldiers who fled East Timor last year along with their families, 800 recruits plus their relatives have already returned home. UNHCR has been discussing with the Indonesian Army since last May the return of the remaining 2,200 demobilised recruits and their relatives who have asked to be repatriated. East Timor's leaders have encouraged them to return.

UNHCR's activities in Kupang will be limited to the few days necessary to complete this operation, as we are still subject to stringent UN security restrictions declared following the murder of our three staff members in Atambua. The repatriation operation will take place following the UN Security Council mission of which UNHCR is a part and which will be visiting Indonesia next week to review the security situation and to visit the militia-controlled refugee camps in West Timor.

UNHCR workers in East Timor continue to receive a small trickle of spontaneous returnees at the border crossing points with West Timor, and today 124 persons returned home. Returning refugees are still reporting a strong militia presence in the refugee camps, and while the pro-Jakarata gangs are no longer brazenly carrying weapons, their intimidation tactics and other pressure on the refugees remain strong. Before the resumption of more extensive UNHCR activities in West Timor, UNHCR believes that the Indonesian government must take more stringent measures in the camps that shelter the some 120,000 remaining refugees before it is safe for aid workers to return to the region.