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Timor: encouraging signs in Kupang area

Briefing notes

Timor: encouraging signs in Kupang area

12 November 1999

More than 56,000 refugees from West Timor have returned to East Timor since UNHCR began a repatriation programme on 8 October.

Today, a total of 1,390 refugees went back - 185 in two airlift flights from Kupang, the capital of West Timor, 504 by ferry from the port of Atapupu and 701 overland through the border crossings at Motaain and Haekesak.

Of the overall figure, 18,000 returned spontaneously and the rest joined the repatriation programme of UNHCR and IOM.

Harassment of both UNHCR staff and refugees continues. Today, a UNHCR team with two IOM trucks went to Haliulun camp in the border town of Atambua but was unable to extract 50 refugees who had registered to go back to East Timor. A crowd, mainly women and children, blocked the entrance to the camp.

However, there were encouraging signs of army cooperation in the Kupang area. Military officials today informed UNHCR that they will deploy troops at Noelbaki camp to allow UNHCR staff to begin repatriation of some 7,000 refugees there. We have been having problems in this camp since the beginning of the refugee crisis in West Timor. In early September, UNHCR officials visiting the camp were attacked and two of them sustained injuries.

Since 1 November, there have been at least 19 incidents of harassment by militiamen of UNHCR staff, aid workers and refugees in the Atambua area alone, where most of the estimated 200,000 refugees are located in some 40 refugee sites along the border.