Nearly seven months after deadly violence forced around 155,000 people in Timor-Leste to flee to temporary camps, the top United Nations official in the tiny nation called today on these internally displaced persons (IDP) to return to their homes, citing a much-improved security situation thanks in part to the increased number of UN police.
“It is important that we begin to solve the problem of the IDP camps in Dili and the surrounding areas because we do need to bring about a sense of normality in the community in order to move past the crises that occurred earlier this year,” said Acting Special Representative for Timor-Leste Finn Reske-Nielsen, referring to the Timorese capital.
“My message today to all the IDPs across Dili is that the security situation has increased significantly and it is becoming safe to go home. And, in fact, over the past several weeks thousands of IDPs have already returned to their homes,” he told reporters at a press conference held at a former IDP camp just east of the capital.
Violence, attributed to differences between eastern and western regions, erupted in April and May after the firing of 600 striking soldiers, a third of the armed forces, and it claimed at least 37 lives and drove 155,000 people, 15 per cent of the total population, from their homes.
The Security Council created the expanded UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) in August to help restore order in the country that the world body shepherded to independence from Indonesia just four years ago, and one of its key aspects is bringing in UN police officers to rebuild and support the local force.
“I am pleased to inform you that at the present time we have just under 1,000 police officers in Dili backed up by almost 1,000 soldiers from the international security forces,” said Mr. Reske-Nielsen.
Earlier in the week, he visited another IDP camp in Dili and said he was pleased to see that its population had fallen from around 17,000 when he first visited in June to 3,500.
As well as the country’s improving security, another reason for people to leave these temporary camps was the possibility of disease and other health risks during the approaching rainy season, Mr. Reske-Nielsen added.
He warned of a “serious” health threat when the rain comes, adding, “it is important that the IDPs in vulnerable camps would begin to think very seriously about going home and if they do not feel safe to go home then, they should avail themselves of the opportunity to be relocated to safer areas.”