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USIS Washington File

08 October 1999

UNHCR Returns First East Timorese from West Timor Camps

(Vanguard of 230,000 displaced persons says UNHCR) (320)
By Wendy Lubetkin
Washington File Correspondent
Geneva -- The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
returned a first group of 173 East Timorese October 8, beginning a
program to return an estimated 230,000 displaced people.
The East Timorese, according to the UNHCR, have been living in camps
in West Timor, sometimes in squalid conditions.
"Today we are making an important first step which we hope will lead
tens of thousands of Timorese safely back to their homes," said High
Commissioner Sadako Ogata.
The 173 were transported in two groups from a stadium and a church in
Kupang, West Timor to the airport and then flown in two flights from
West Timor to Dili, the capital of East Timor.
"They were very enthusiastically greeted by the people on the
streets," said UNHCR spokesperson Kris Janowski. French military
trucks drove the refugees from the airport to a transit center in a
stadium in Dili as East Timorese along the streets applauded.
Almost all the returnees from both groups left the transit center
immediately, Janowski said. "We were thinking that some of them may
have to stay there, but in fact most of them went to look for their
homes or whatever is left of their homes," she added.
Daily flights are planned in the coming days. Ogata told a press
briefing that she believes within a few days UNHCR will be able to
return up to 1,000 people per day to East Timor.
UNCHR is also looking at the possibility of sending people back by
land and sea to speed up the repatriation process, but only, it
stressed, if the security situation permits.
[The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.]



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