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Timor Emergency Update

Timor Emergency Update

14 October 1999

West Timor

The planned land repatriation of around 100 Timorese from Atambua to East Timor has been postponed due to the continuing investigation into Sunday's incident at Motaain, during which one Indonesian police officer was killed and several others wounded in an encounter with Interfet troops. A first return was initially planned to take place as early as today, Thursday, but all cross-border activity has been temporarily suspended while the Indonesian military and Interfet look into the incident.

UNHCR continued with the three daily flights from Kupang to Dili Thursday. The rotations by the Transall ferried 302 people, bringing the total since 8 October to 1,535 on 16 flights.

Before the third flight Thursday, a breakdown of the returnees to that point by UNHCR's Kupang office showed the 184 families airlifted home included 877 adults, 439 children between the ages of three and 15, and 117 children under two.

A formal agreement was signed in Jakarta Thursday by Indonesia's Welfare Minister, H. Haryono Suyono, and UNHCR, giving the agency a free hand in organizing the repatriation of East Timorese refugees who wish to return to East Timor from West Timor and elsewhere in Indonesia.

The pact says all East Timorese will be allowed to make a decision "free from any form of intimidation or threat" on whether they want to return or remain. It guarantees that UNHCR will be able to establish an operational presence in any place now housing East Timorese to ensure that the agreement is honoured on the ground.

The written agreement follows similar verbal assurances given to High Commissioner Sadako Ogata by Indonesia's President B.J. Habibie during Ogata's visit to Indonesia last month.

In Kupang, staff yesterday began sending to refugee sites in Atambua relief supplies airlifted from Darwin, Australia. The aid was flown in by UNHCR on seven flights last week and has now cleared customs.

East Timor

UNHCR and IOM Thursday conducted the first flight from Jakarta to East Timor from the so-called Timorese urban caseload. Almost 280 Timorese boarded the IOM-chartered Lockheed L1011 to Baucau, marking the first returns to the town and the first repatriation from the Indonesian capital.

The urban caseload of around 5,500 Timorese is in Jakarta, Surabaya and Bali. Daily flights are scheduled from Jakarta, then Surabaya and then Denpasar in Bali.

Aid workers from several agencies returned to Dili Thursday evening after a three-day assessment mission through towns in western East Timor. The group travelled first to Batou Gade, a border town on the north shore, driving through areas that were almost devoid of inhabitants. In the 50 kms between Dili and Atabae they encountered only a few dozen inhabitants and estimate that 80% of homes and villages have been destroyed. Farther along, in the final stretch before Badou Gade, villages were simply deserted. The few people UNHCR was able to speak with said almost all area residents were taken to West Timor.

The mission found similarly empty villages between Batou Gade and Maliana, to the south-east. There, around 1,000 people have returned to their homes. They told UNHCR that an estimated 4,000 more displaced are still in the mountains, while many others from the town had been deported. They spoke specifically of around 25,000 people who were taken to camps around the village of Turiskain, in the area due east of Atambua, in West Timor.

From Maliana the mission made its way through the mountains to Bobonaro, meeting several hundred displaced walking down from the hills to Maliana. Residents were also returning to Bobonaro itself, due to the presence of Interfet troops who were deploying at the same time as the aid workers' visit. Mission members estimated the current population of Bobonaro at 5,000.

The mission made a final stop at Ermera. They noted people returning progressively to many small mountain villages and that far fewer homes - around 20% - in this zone had been damaged or destroyed. Even so, villagers told UNHCR they knew of hundreds of people who had been taken to makeshift camps in West Timor.

Humanitarian agencies plan to conduct a similar extended assessment of the area around the south-western town of Suai. For the time being, security conditions do not permit this.

Humanitarian agencies plan to conduct a similar extended assessment of the area around the south-western town of Suai. For the time being, security conditions do not permit this.