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Timor Emergency Update

Timor Emergency Update

21 October 1999

East Timor

The flow of East Timorese across the border from West Timor stopped abruptly late Wednesday and UNHCR staff on the ground reported that only 60 people crossed overnight and a further 7 trickled across the border Thursday morning. Testimonies of East Timorese, who were allowed to cross the border earlier in the week, indicated that thousands of people may be stuck on the West Timor side of the border. UNHCR staff who travelled to the border area Thursday saw a group of about 1,000 people massed on the West Timor side and unable to cross. UNHCR believes there are more similar groups in the border area.

Earlier in the week, 2,000 East Timorese coming from a single camp on the West Timor side of the border were allowed to leave the camp after Indonesian soldiers removed militiamen who until then had prevented the group from leaving.

The reason for the interruption of the crossings was not clear, but it came amid reports from the Interfet peacekeeping forces of armed militia groups crossing back into East Timor. Interfet said they were deploying more troops in the area to prevent possible attacks on returning refugees.

Aid officials from UNHCR, WFP, MSF Oxfam and other aid agencies meanwhile set up reception points with food, provisional shelter and drinking water in the anticipation that thousands or perhaps even tens of thousands more exhausted and dehydrated East Timorese will cross the border.

West Timor

UNHCR's processing centre opened in West Timor's capital Kupang today, Thursday, with 4,000 East Timorese registering for return within hours of the opening. 1,996 East Timorese were bussed from Kupang's Gor stadium and another makeshift site to the port. They boarded a ship headed for Dili in East Timor, in a first return from Kupang by sea. The vessel was chartered by the International Organization for Migration. UNHCR staff were accompanying the returnees on the overnight journey to Dili. Earlier in the day, hundreds more East Timorese were flown back to Dili on 5 UNHCR flights. The use of the ship has increased the daily number of returnees from Kupang to 2,500.

But while the return operation out of Kupang is working smoothly, UNHCR staff in West Timor are concerned about the situation in squalid makeshift camps holding more than 100,000 East Timorese in the Atambua area, near the border with East Timor. Access to the camps is difficult because of bad roads and the remoteness of some sites. The security situation is precarious with continued militia activity in the Atambua area camps which also hampers international access to many sites.