Another 300 East Timorese refugees return from West Timor: UN mission

Another 300 East Timorese refugees return from West Timor: UN mission

More than 300 refugees returned from camps in Indonesian West Timor today in a process facilitated by the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) along with leaders from both the pro-independence and pro-autonomy movements, the UN operation said in a statement.

"This is another big day in which we welcome our brothers and sisters from West Timor," said independence leader Xanana Gusmão at the border crossing of Salele in Covalima District today, adding that all efforts must be put into helping the returnees start a new life. "This process will continue until all refugees are back."

The return, in which UNTAET, the International Organization for Migration and UNHCR played a crucial part, was facilitated specifically by Mr. Gusmão, UNTAET's Chief of Staff N. Parameswaran and former pro-autonomy leader Hélio Moniz Caetano. It follows a border meeting held in Salele last month between Mr. Gusmão and Covalima elders with leaders of the Covalima refugees.

"This shows the world that the Indonesian police and military support this process," said Jacki Uly, the Police Chief of East Timor's neighbouring Indonesian province of NTT (East Nusa Tenggara). He expressed hope that all refugees would eventually return.

Mr. Gusmão held a separate meeting with five former members of the Laksaur militia and the deputy commander of the Mahidi militia, Nemésio Lopes de Carvalho.

"I asked them to return," Mr. Gusmão said, stressing that the returnees would have to face justice if found guilty of any atrocities, but that their safety would be ensured. Nemésio Lopes de Carvalho told reporters that he planned to return to East Timor with his followers on 17 October.

Meanwhile, UNTAET officials will be continuing discussions with political and militia/pro-autonomy/pro-integration leaders with a view to promoting reconciliation and negotiating further refugee returns. As in the past, negotiations will be conducted only with those refugees who are not under indictment for serious crimes.