Subject: KY: E. Timorese refugee returnees top 200,000 mark

Received from Joyo Indonesian News

No. of E. Timorese refugee returnees top 200,000 mark

DILI, East Timor, April 10 (Kyodo) - The number of East Timorese refugees repatriated from Indonesia's West Timor since October 1999 passed the 200,000 mark Wednesday, the U.N. Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) said.

UNTAET chief Sergio Vieira de Mello traveled to the border town of Batugade to symbolically welcome home the 200,000th refugee, according to a UNTAET press briefing.

Close to 500 East Timorese refugees returned home from West Timor refugee camps Wednesday alone, bringing the total since the start of April to 3,500 compared with the 4,000 who returned in March, the highest monthly total in two years, the United Nations' leading refugee agency said.

Jake Morland, spokesman at the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told Kyodo News that East Timor's presidential election Sunday is a key reason for the upsurge in returnees.

''Many of the returnees are telling us that they are returning because they want to be part of the election,'' Morland said. ''But they also tell us that they are returning because they have completed their rice harvest in West Timor.''

The UNHCR estimates that no more than 60,000 refugees remain in West Timor, Morland said. ''We still believe the majority wish to return,'' he said.

In 1999, at least 250,000 East Timorese either fled or were forced over the border by marauding anti-independence militiamen, enraged at East Timor's vote to secede from Indonesia in August 1999.

East Timor is set to become independent May 20 after almost 400 years of Portuguese colonial rule, more than 24 years of occupation by Indonesia and more than two-and-a-half years of administration by the United Nations.

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