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Timor: activities in West Timor go into high gear

Briefing notes

Timor: activities in West Timor go into high gear

5 October 1999

UNHCR's activities in West Timor went into high gear this week with the start of the airlift of humanitarian supplies and preparations for the first return of Timorese who wish to go back to East Timor.

The first aid flight from Darwin in Australia to the West Timor capital of Kupang arrived on Monday. An Antonov transport ferried plastic sheeting, water containers, mats, blankets, kitchen sets and medical kits. Two more aid flights landed today and more supplies are expected to be ferried this week to Kupang.

The government says around 230,000 people from East Timor have arrived in West Timor, 130,000 of them in towns bordering East Timor and another 40,000 in the Kupang area. In many camps, conditions are appalling. Many have only palm fronds over the heads and there is little food and other basic necessities.

Following the opening of an office in Kupang last week, UNHCR sent staff today to the border town of Atambua today to establish a presence in the area where most of the displaced are located.

Since the Indonesian government announced on Saturday its agreement to begin returning people who wish to go back to East Timor, UNHCR has been working on details of the first return flight later in the week, possibly on Friday, of people who want to go back to Dili.

Today, UNHCR informed the governor of West Timor that it is moving ahead with its planning and that it has discussed with police and military officials details of how security could be provided to the returnees. The governor said he was satisfied with UNHCR's preparations. The governor also dismissed reported threats against potential returnees by those opposing the move.

UNHCR also expressed concern to the governor about the registration which started on Monday, by Indonesian authorities of the people from East Timor in West Timor camps. Registration forms distributed asked the camp inhabitants if they wished to return to East Timor, whether they want to stay permanently or temporarily in West Timor, or if they want to join the government's transmigration programme.

UNHCR told the governor a secure environment may not exist now in some of the refugee sites and that people may be unable to make a free and informed choice. The governor skated UNHCR's concerns and said the registration was meant to ensure that those who needed assistance would get it.