Subject: Peacekeepers Want To Ferry Refugees

Associated Press November 1, 1999

Peacekeepers Want To Ferry Refugees

By GRANT PECK

DILI, East Timor (AP) - Peacekeepers in East Timor are negotiating with Indonesian authorities to allow their multinational naval flotilla to assist in bringing back refugees, a spokesman said today.

About 275,000 East Timorese out of a pre-crisis population of 850,000 fled to West Timor, the Indonesian-held half of the island - most apparently under duress - after political violence broke out two months ago.

Almost 35,000 of those refugees have so far returned from West Timor, thousands of them carried on civilian ferries chartered on an ad hoc basis by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Col. Mark Kelly, chief of staff of the peacekeeping force, said it was a matter of maintaining a ``steady flow,'' through the use of bigger ships that can carry 2,000 returnees at a time, barges with a 600-person capacity and overland convoys.

``We have been negotiating to use some of our naval assets,'' he said.

The international peacekeeping force that deployed to East Timor on Sept. 20 is backed by a number of supply ships from the Australian, French and U.S. navies that could be used to repatriate refugees.

East Timor fell into chaos after the vote in a U.N.-supervised Aug. 30 referendum overwhelmingly favored independence instead of continued union with Indonesia. In the wake of the referendum, the Indonesian army and its militia allies resorted to violence to create massive turmoil.

East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, was occupied by Indonesia in 1975.

Kelly said that in recent weeks thousands of people who had sought refuge in the hills in East Timor had been contacted by patrols of the international peacekeeping force in an effort to get them back to their homes.

``As they become more aware, we gain their confidence by our presence and indeed the contact we've made,'' he said. ``But clearly to convince them to come down we must be in a position to provide them shelter.''

Kelly said the case of a Philippine unit which unexpectedly found 20,000 people hiding in the central mountains was an example of how the remote nature of some of the countryside could effectively hide a large number of people.

``They weren't hungry when the Philippine contingent got up there, yet they are now very pleased with the presence of (the) troops,'' he said.

AP-NY-11-01-99 0704EST


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