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Timor returns

Briefing notes

Timor returns

22 October 1999

1,966 East Timorese arrived in Dili from West Timor's capital Kupang today amid scenes of jubilation. UNHCR staff accompanied them on the 10 hour trip from Kupang on a ship chartered by the IOM. The total number of people who have returned to East Timor, be it spontaneously or in an organised fashion, stands at almost 10,000. Yesterday a group of 116 people were transported with UNHCR escort from a camp in the Atambua area to Dili in the first organised overland movement.

However, spontaneous returns which stopped abruptly late Wednesday, after some 2,000 people crossed, have not resumed, and we are concerned about the situation in militia-controlled camps in the Atambua area to which we have no or very little access for both security and logistical reasons. Thousands of people are believed to be stuck on the West Timor side of the border - unable to cross. Aid agencies this evening will truck relief items for 20,000 (mostly medical kits) to the Atambua area from Kupang. With the onset of the rainy season, the danger of epidemic and disease grows in the makeshift camps.

Thousands of people meanwhile are coming to UNHCR's newly opened Fatululi processing centre in Kupang to register for departure. On Thursday alone 4,000 people poured into the centre and the flow continued Friday. Most of the people report militia intimidation and harassment. For example, armed militia yesterday visited a collection point (at a parish in Kupang) and tried to intimidate the people wanting to return.