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East Timor: 600 more refugees return home from West Timor, UN mission says

East Timor: 600 more refugees return home from West Timor, UN mission says

Hundreds of East Timorese have returned from West Timor refugee camps as the United Nations Transitional Administration (UNTAET) continued its ongoing efforts to encourage their repatriation.

Top East Timorese, UNTAET and Indonesian officials met Saturday at a border crossing in Suai District to witness the return of some 600 people. Acting Chief Minister José Ramos-Horta, UNTAET Chief of Staff N. Parameswaran, East Timor Defence Force Commander Taur Matan Ruak and Prosecutor General Longuinhos Monteiro were among the officials present at the crossing.

"This is your country, the door is open to all of you who two years ago took refuge from East Timor and are now willing to return," Mr. Ramos-Horta said at the reception ceremony. "You are most warmly welcomed," he said, but reiterated that any returnee who had committed crimes against humanity would face justice.

Former Mahidi militia group commander Câncio Lopes de Carvalho also took part in the meeting and ceremony, presenting a letter of reconciliation to the East Timorese representatives.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNTAET have helped 3,233 East Timorese refugees return home over the past month, the highest number in a single month since March 2000 when 9,485 returned. Since October 1999, some 188,646 East Timorese have voluntarily returned.

The significant increase during the past month may be attributed to the growing confidence of the refugees with the situation in East Timor, especially since the successful 30 August elections, UNTAET said.

Meanwhile, UNHCR anticipates that many thousand more will return before the full onset of the rainy season and the Christmas celebrations. The proactive approach of the Government of Indonesia, together with the reconciliation process driven by the East Timorese leadership, add further impetus to encouraging refugee returns.