Subject: AFP: East Timor's main airport to re-open for commercial flights

Agence France Presse

December 31, 1999, Friday

East Timor's main airport to re-open for commercial flights

DILI, East Timor, Dec 31

An Indonesian aircraft is expected to be among the first to land in the East Timorese capital of Dili next Monday when commercial aviation service is able to resume, the UN mission said Friday.

"The Dili airport can be re-opened next Monday for civil air traffic," Sergio Vieira de Mello, who heads the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), told journalists.

De Mello said he understood but could not yet confirm the Indonesian airline, Merpati, will conduct a "test flight" into Dili's Komoro airport on Monday.

"I welcome this development," said de Mello, who plans to meet the aircraft.

He said Merpati is "very interested in resuming flights to Dili."

Until it ceased its service from the Indonesian cities of Jakarta, Denpasar and Kupang in August, Merpati ran the only regular commercial airline flights to East Timor.

The airline stopped landing in East Timor as violence increased around the August 30 ballot in which East Timorese voted for independence from Indonesia, which invaded the territory in 1975.

Dili's airport became a busy military landing field with round-the-clock arrivals of troops and supplies once international peacekeepers began their deployment on September 20.

The airport still serves as a base for air operations of the International Force East Timor (Interfet) but it also hosts flights by the United Nations and aid organizations.

De Mello said an airline associated with the Australian carrier, Qantas, has also expressed interest in operating a service to Dili.

He said UNTAET's immigration service will be established by Monday to check the passports of arriving passengers.

"However, customs may have to wait a bit longer," he said.

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