Subject: West Timor Wants to Empty Refugee Camps

see also: Transcript of the press briefing given by SRSG Sergio Vieira de Mello at UNTAET headquarters on the visit to Dili by West Timor Governor Piet Tallo

Sydney Morning Herald Friday, June 9, 2000

West Timor wants to empty camps

By MARK DODD, Herald Correspondent in Dili

The Governor of Indonesian West Timor, Mr Piet Tallo, yesterday called for the repatriation of all remaining East Timorese refugees, saying the economic burden was too much to bear.

"While they were welcome, I feel the time has come for them to go back home," Mr Tallo said at a meeting in Dili.

The question of refugees dominated talks between East Timorese independence leaders and United Nations and West Timorese officials during Mr Tallo's visit to East Timor, the first direct meeting between the two sides.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says 120,000 East Timorese remain in camps in West Timor. About 280,000 had been deported there or fled across the border after pro-Jakarta militias went on the rampage following a landslide victory for independence supporters in last August's UN-brokered referendum.

The UN chief in East Timor, Mr Sergio Vieira de Mello, said measures to promote the repatriation of refugees needed to be intensified, including more border reunion meetings between families and an agreement for local media to cross the border and report on the situation in the camps.

The Catholic Church in East Timor was also willing to help East Timorese return, Mr Vieira de Mello said, welcoming a visit today to the West Timor border town of Atambua by Bishop Basilio do Nascimento of Baucau.

At the meeting, Bishop Carlos Bello warned that while most East Timorese were welcome home, some militia leaders might face charges of crimes against humanity for their part in last year's mayhem. Human rights officials say as many as 1,500 people may have been killed in the militia violence.

The round-table talks yesterday at UN headquarters also involved discussion on border security and the opening of an overland transit link to the Oecussi enclave, a small pocket of East Timorese territory on the northern coast of West Timor.

On Wednesday, Indonesia's Foreign Minister, Mr Alwi Shihab, promised to relocate up to 10,000 pro-Jakarta militia and their families about 20 kilometres away from the border in an attempt to ease tensions. He estimated militia strength at about 1,730 fighters.

Mr Shihab also called on the UN to replace with Thais or other Asians the New Zealand and Australian troops guarding the border.

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