Subject: SMH: Former enemies unite to get refugees to go home

Sydney Morning Herald April 6 2002

Former enemies unite to get refugees to go home

By Jill Jolliffe in Atambua, West Timor

The East Timorese presidential candidate Xanana Gusmao has joined forces with a former enemy soldier in an attempt to repatriate about 60,000 refugees trapped in militia camps in West Timor.

This week Mr Gusmao interrupted his campaign for tomorrow week's presidential elections to take part in an operation planned with the Indonesian Government, the United Nations Administration in East Timor and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Travelling deep into Indonesian territory in an UNHCR convoy, he spoke at rallies at Atambua and Kefamenanu with the commander of Indonesia's Eastern Nusatenggara region, General William da Costa.

A UNHCR spokesman described the move as "a massive show of reconciliation and trust between Indonesia and East Timor".

It was the UNHCR's first high-profile operation in West Timor since it was forced to withdraw in September 2000 after militia gangs murdered three of its staff in Atambua. Mr Gusmao's first stop was to lay flowers at the site of their deaths with General da Costa and the UNHCR mission head, Robert Ashe.

Mr Gusmao has known General da Costa since Easter 1983, when they agreed on a ceasefire in the remote East Timor mountain camp of Lari Guto.

The ceasefire lasted just five months, but the two men hope their new alliance will finally bring peace between Indonesia and East Timor, due to become independent on May 20.

The remaining refugee presence in West Timor is a result of the deportation of 250,000 people during Indonesia's troop withdrawal in 1999. It has become a focus of the power struggle in Indonesia between reformers and military elements who do not accept East Timor's independence.

Mr Gusmao, who travelled from a campaign rally in the East Timorese border town of Maliana, brought 4000 postcards to distribute, with a message of peaceful reconciliation. They were signed by him, the Bishop of Dili, the Right Rev Carlos Belo, and the UN administrator, Sergio Vieira de Mello, but most were written by families in East Timor to relatives in the camps.

Mr Gusmao told the Atambua crowd, which included some militia leaders: "Politics must no longer divide us. We must stop killing each other."

He said independence would not bring automatic solutions.

"You may not have a home when you go back - but we will give you materials to build one. We must love and respect each other, and also build friendly relations with Australia and Indonesia."

The United Nations campaign to bring refugees home resulted in about 4000 people returning last month, and another 2000 were expected to return this week.

It is feared that if the refugees do not go home soon they will remain hostage to militia leaders and could be used to undermine stability in East Timor.

Among wanted militia leaders who attended this week's rallies were Simao Lopes, indicted by the UN for massacres in Oecussi, Joao Tavares, the pro-Indonesian veteran, and Camillo dos Santos, the alleged killer of a Dutch journalist, Sander Thoenes.

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