Subject: AFP: New Timorese government will accept returning refugees until December

Received from Joyo Indonesian News

New Timorese government will accept returning refugees until December

DILI, East Timor, April 11 (AFP) - East Timor's new government will give refugees until the end of this year to return home from Indonesian West Timor and elsewhere, a minister said Thursday.

"We will give them until the end of December," said Chief Minister Mari Alkatiri, who will become prime minister after independence on May 20.

Alkatiri said some of the tens of thousands still in West Timor were unsure whether to come back because their homes had been occupied by others. Others were not well informed about the situation in East Timor.

"But we will continue our efforts for them to return," he said at a meeting of the transitional government with civic and public leaders, to present a plan for independence celebrations.

After the territory voted in August 1999 for independence from Indonesia, pro-Jakarta militias embarked on a rampage of killing and destruction, forcing or leading more than 250,000 people across the border into West Timor.

On Wednesday, Sergio Vieira de Mello, the United Nations chief in East Timor, visited the border to welcome home the 200,000th returnee.

He handed out 150 teddy bears, provided by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, to the returning children among the almost 500 who crossed the border that day.

Nearly 3,500 refugees have returned to East Timor from camps in West Timor this month. Last month 4,000 came home, the highest monthly total in two years.

The UNHCR attributes the upsurge to Sunday's presidential elections and next months's independence celebrations.

Many of those still unwilling to return are former militia members or their families, or people who once served with the Indonesian administration or army in East Timor.

bs/sm/evz/kma AFP

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