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Timor: Indonesian West Timor census begins

Briefing notes

Timor: Indonesian West Timor census begins

21 March 2000

A former militia member threw a rock at a repatriation convoy on its way from the border town of Atambua in West Timor to East Timor on Monday, smashing the glass window of one vehicle. UNHCR staff brought the incident to the attention of Indonesian military authorities in Atambua and they promised to arrest the ex-militiaman.

It was the first security incident since tensions eased in the West Timor camps following the visit of the Indonesian president late last month with a message of reconciliation between Indonesia and East Timor.

No injuries were reported during the stoning incident and 451 returnees made it safely to East Timor.

On Tuesday, 272 refugees crossed the border overland to East Timor from the border towns of Atambua and Betun. Another 503 people were to sail from Kupang in West Timor to Dili in East Timor. Those going by boat are mainly families of around 60 ex-army soldiers heading for the town of Ailieu south of Dili. They are the largest group of former soldiers to return home to East Timor.

More than 153,000 people have returned to East Timor since the UNHCR-IOM repatriation programme got underway in October.

UNHCR is also seeking clarification from the Indonesian government about a statement by the welfare minister over the weekend that 10,000 people who had returned to East Timor had gone back to camps in West Timor purportedly because of difficulties they were facing.

UNHCR staff along the border area reported no such massive returns. The Indonesian border police also told UNHCR staff along the three major border crossing areas that they were unaware of such an influx from East Timor of former refugees.

In another development, Indonesian authorities began last week a census in the refugee settlements in West Timor. UNHCR is monitoring the census and hopes that the result will provide a more accurate number of the remaining East Timorese in West Timor.