UN agency hopeful of mass refugee returns before East Timor's independence
More than 350 people crossed into East Timor on Monday at the Batugade junction point, many of whom cited independence leader Xanana Gusmão's victory in the 14 April presidential election and East Timor's 20 May independence as their main reasons for returning, UNHCR officials said.
Late last week, Mr. Gusmão and UNHCR officials visited South Sulawesi, Indonesia, for talks with refugees, religious leaders and the Governor of South Sulawesi, H.Z. Palaguna, in a continuing bid to encourage the estimated 1,000 East Timorese refugees based there to return home.
The President-elect's visit to Atambua, West Timor, early last month has also been cited as a major factor in prompting more than 6,000 refugees to return to East Timor - the highest monthly total since March 2000.
Since late 1999, nearly 205,000 refugees have returned to East Timor.