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Timor: some headway on West Timor access

Briefing notes

Timor: some headway on West Timor access

28 September 1999

UNHCR has made some headway with the authorities in West Timor in trying to gain access to East Timorese who have fled or who have been deported to West Timor. Tuesday morning the UN inter agency mission met with the governor of West Timor. The UNHCR-led mission told the governor that his own staff reported that 60 percent of an estimated 230,000 East Timorese in West Timor want to go back (neither figure can be confirmed independently). During an hour long meeting Governor Piet Thallo said his priority was assistance and shelter for the displaced in West Timor. He said it was too early to discuss return even though he was not generally opposed to the idea. On Monday the interagency mission which includes WFP, UNICEF. OCHA and NGOs visited Panti Social - a local collective centre run by the government which houses some 1,200 East Timorese scattered in buildings and huts on the premises. Some of the people told the mission they wanted to go back. The mission also went to Noel Baki outside of Kupang which accommodates 4,000, mostly anti-independence Indonesian evacuees from East Timor. It was in Noel Baki where UNHCR staff were attacked by an angry mob earlier this month. The brief visit Monday went without incidents. Half way between Kupang and Noel Baki, in the village of Tua Pukan, the mission saw huts being constructed for some 30,000 displaced. The mission arrived in West Timor last Saturday. They intend to move on to the border town of Atambua on Wednesday. There are now 5 UNHCR staff in West Timor and more on their way.

In East Timor, meanwhile, the aid operation is gathering momentum. Two flights a day arrive in Dili as part of UNHCR's airlift bringing in mostly emergency shelter material which is very much in demand after the rampage by the militias left most of Dili and many other East Timor towns in ruins. UNHCR and other UN agencies are working together on the ground on contingency planning for a possible mass return of displaced people to Dili and other towns. UNHCR is also preparing for the registration of returnees which will be vital to determine the number of missing and those taken to West Timor or elsewhere in Indonesia. UNHCR is planning to open 7 offices in East Timor. We now have 5 international staff in Dili but the staff will double by the end of the week.

UNHCR has moved out of the Australian consulate and is now in a school across the street from the former United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) compound. The security situation is precarious, especially outside of Dili. Many people come to Dili from the hills during the day but they are too fearful to remain in town after dark.