Timor Emergency Update
Some 2,600 refugees crossed into West Timor's border town of Betun for Suai in East Timor on Thursday and another 200 in two groups returned to the Ambeno enclave.
Thursday's returns brought to more than 100,800 the number of returnees since UNHCR began a repatriation programme in October.
Before the repatriations started, the government told UNHCR a quarter of a million people from East Timor went to West Timor. Because of limited access to the camps, UNHCR has been unable to verify the government figures. The government says 60 to 70 percent of the refugees wish to return to East Timor.
There have been no returns from the Atambua area along the border with East Timor since Tuesday. Army and police units who had escorted UNHCR repatriation teams have been deployed in security arrangements for visiting dignitaries.
On Wednesday, Indonesian Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri visited Kupang and Atambua, where she stopped at the Haliwen refugee camp. She was accompanied by General Wiranto, the newly appointed coordinating minister for defence and security.
The trip of the Indonesian vice president followed a visit on Monday by U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. During Holbrooke's stop at the border town of Motaain on Monday, officials of the International Force in East Timor and the Indonesian military signed an agreement establishing a Joint Border Commission. The commission will oversee cross-border security arrangements and speed up the repatriation of refugees to East Timor.
UNHCR has expressed hopes that the setting up of the commission will produce a breakthrough in efforts to gain unimpeded access to the camps and halt harassment of returnees.
Three days after the setting up of the commission, there has been no noticeable improvement in the security situation, at least in the Kupang area.
For the first time, a UNHCR team, accompanied by police and army troops, entered Naibonat camp in the outskirts of Kupang on Thursday, to begin the repatriation of several thousand Timorese there. The team faced the usual taunts from militias and managed only to extricate four returnees. The team plans to return to Naibonat on Friday.
Kupang's two major newspapers on Thursday published an interview with Major General Peter Cosgrove, the Interfet commander, conducted by journalists who visited Dili earlier this week. UNHCR arranged the visit of the journalists as part of its mass information programme on conditions in East Timor.
Articles on the trip have been published since Wednesday.
Four radio stations in Kupang have been broadcasting two-minute reports on conditions in East Timor prepared by UNHCR over the past two weeks. The radio spots are broadcast 10 times daily.