Subject: AGE: Timorese refugees 'safe to return'

Timorese refugees 'safe to return' By MARK DODD DILI Wednesday 20 December 2000

A senior pro-Indonesia East Timorese leader has told United Nations officials that he regards his former homeland as "safe and secure" and is prepared to recommend that 10,000 refugees under his control return home.

The leader, Joao Corbafo, from the enclave of Oecussi, has spent the past week in East Timor talking to UN officials, including UN chief Sergio Vieira de Mello and senior independence figures.

A former Indonesian civil servant, he fled Oecussi in last year's violence but now wants to return home with his supporters, UN spokesman Peter Biro said yesterday.

Mr Corbafo, now based in Indonesian West Timor, is not linked to any war crimes and his return is likely to encourage more East Timorese not involved in serious human rights violations to return.

He told reporters he was worried about a misconception that all East Timorese who voted for autonomy rather than independence were militia members.

"If I come back, the refugees will come back. I am still concerned about the unity of the East Timorese people. We need reconciliation and unity. There is a lack of unity among the young people," he said.

He expressed remorse for the destruction that occurred after the independence vote.

Meanwhile Jake Morland, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said 14 autonomy supporters would arrive for a "look and see" visit tomorrow. And a shipload of 451 refugees would return to East Timor for a second "look and see" visit on Friday.

Notorious East Timorese militia chief Eurico Guterres will go on trial in two weeks over violence in West Timor that followed the slaughter of three UN refugee workers, an Indonesian official said yesterday.

The incident in Atambua, in which pro-Jakarta militiamen rioted at a weapons handover and took some guns back, came three weeks after militiamen butchered the UN workers in the same town.

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