Subject: UN: East Timorese Asking To Be Returned Home

Dow Jones Newswires May 22, 2000

East Timorese Asking To Be Returned Home: UN

DILI, East Timor (AP)--Some of the East Timorese refugees who have been living in exile in Indonesian-held West Timor for the past eight months are asking to be returned to their homeland, a U.N. spokesman said Monday.

A quarter of a million people fled to West Timor to escape the campaign of terror that erupted when East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia last August. About 90,000 still remain there.

"Ninety-seven refugee families have asked for our help to return to East Timor," said Jake Morland, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in West Timor.

"This is one good thing to come out of this (flooding) crisis."

The mass appeals follow a call from U.N. chief representative in East Timor, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and the territory's independence leader, Jose "Xanana" Gusmao, for the refugees to return home.

In West Timor, two people were swept away and drowned as they tried to wade across a river in the southern Belu region, only a few kilometers west of the East Timor-Indonesian border, Morland said.

At least 148 people have died so far in the flooding. The death toll will likely rise if monsoon rains continue to drench West Timor, Morland said.

"The damage to the area is horrific," said Morland from the West Timor capital, Kupang. "So many people are in up to their knees in mud."

He said helicopters had airlifted enough food into the area on Sunday to feed about 20,000 people, but a much larger number of victims were still in desperate need of emergency supplies.

In video footage shot by one of the U.N. pilots, hundreds of people could be seen dashing through knee-deep water to collect bags of rice and other supplies.

A large road bridge had collapsed, with sections completely washed away. Vast tracts of land were totally submerged under water.

Morland said several minor scuffles had broken out as thousands of wet and hungry people fought for emergency supplies.

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