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Timor: decision deadline approaches

Briefing notes

Timor: decision deadline approaches

17 March 2000

Departures continue from refugee camps in the Kupang area, barely two weeks before the expiration of a March 31 deadline set by the Indonesian government for refugees to decide if they wish to return to East Timor or remain in Indonesia.

On Wednesday, more than 250 Moslem East Timorese left Noel Baki camp to resettle in South Sulawesi in Indonesia. Another group of 170 refugees went to UNHCR's transit centre to wait for a ship that would take them to Dili in East Timor.

Around 800 people are now in the transit centre - all of them from the Kupang camps, which shelter mostly pro-Indonesian East Timorese. While the overall number of returns in recent weeks remains small - an average of 300 per day - significant departures are taking place from the Kupang area that could give momentum to the UNHCR-IOM repatriation programme.

The people at the transit centre include around 60 East Timorese who have resigned from the Indonesian Army, and their families. They total around 500 and are now in their second week in the transit centre.

UNHCR is awaiting arrangements from the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) and CNRT, the umbrella organisation for East Timorese political groups, so that these 500 Timorese can go back safely. They are destined for Ailieu, the headquarters of East Timorese resistance fighters located just south of Dili. They are anxious to return and said they planned to go back on their own unless they hear soon from UNTAET and CNRT.

They said that since they have resigned from the Indonesian army, they could no longer remain in Kupang and would like to begin a new life. They said they have nothing to fear since they have not done anything wrong.