Subject: ABC: Gusmao attends Sunday mass, visits more refugees in West Timor

ABC Newsonline

Posted: Sun, 3 Nov 2002 17:06 AEDT Gusmao attends Sunday mass, visits more refugees in West Timor

Visiting East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao attended a mass at the cathedral in the Indonesian town of Kupang in West Timor before visiting more East Timorese refugees to urge them to return home.

Mr Gusmao attended the mass along with many local leaders before visiting Kefamenanu in the district of Timor Tengah Utara, to meet his compatriots in refugee camps, sources in his delegation said.

The East Timor president, who once commanded rebel forces resisting Indonesian occupation, is also scheduled to hold a meeting later Sunday evening local time, with the former commander of the pro-Indonesia militia, Joao Tavares, they said.

Mr Gusmao's visit, a press release from his office said, was a final attempt to convince the remaining 30,000 or so refugees in West Timor that they have until December 31 to return to East Timor with help from international organisations.

"Our country is now an independent nation, this is a major step towards the reconciliation process," Mr Gusmao was quoted in the release as saying.

As of January, 1, 2003, international organisations will cease their returnee assistance program and the Indonesian Government has also announced its own program will also end.

East Timorese who decided to stay in Indonesia after that date will no longer be considered as refugees.

Mr Gusmao was enthusiastically welcomed by thousands of refugees at two East Timorese refugee camps at the outskirts of Kupang.

More than 250,000 East Timorese fled or were forced from their homeland into West Timor after the Indonesian military and the militia proxies they created carried out a scorched-earth policy after the August 1999 UN-sponsored ballot in which East Timor voted to secede.

The UN's refugee agency estimates 30,000 refugees remain in West Timor.

Most are former militia, military, police, government officials and their followers.

In July, Mr Gusmao received the red carpet treatment when he made his first visit to Indonesia since his country became independent May 20, after 31 months of UN stewardship.

However, East Timor's independence is still considered an affront by parts of the Indonesian military.


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