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TIMOR-LESTE: IDPs begin to return home as security improves

DILI, 20 March 2008 (IRIN) - A month after the attacks in Timor-Leste that left rebel leader Alfredo Reinado dead and President Jose Ramos Horta wounded, some of the 30,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) living in camps throughout Dili, the capital, are returning home.

The security situation appears to have improved considerably, according to UN and government sources, since the death of Reinado and many of his followers. The 600 former defence force troops with grievances against the government are now negotiating settlements, easing fears of renewed fighting. In addition, the offer of a government relocation package - including assistance to reconstruct houses - has prompted at least 43 families (380 people) to return home in the past week.

Vicente da Silva and his family piled all their worldly possessions - buckets, clothes and cooking pots - on to a truck and waved goodbye to the Dominican Sisters IDP camp they had called home for almost two years.

"I feel about 75 percent safe in my neighbourhood, because the security situation is
better and it’s calmer now,” Da Silva told IRIN. “The police are regularly patrolling the areas, and there are not really any problems.”

Da Silva received US$5,000 from the government to rebuild his two homes, which were damaged in the 2006 crisis when tensions erupted between the police and military. He has only just received the money, and will live in a tent on his property, not far from the IDP camp, until he finishes rebuilding his houses.

Safety first

Many IDPs say they feel safer since the police and military merged several weeks ago under a joint command as it demonstrates that the two groups, who were once enemies, can now work together peacefully.

"I saw after the government took the PNTL [national police] and FDTL [national defence force] and put them together … that they are working together very well,” Da Silva said. “I now have faith in the institutions."

But the merger is only temporary, and analysts, including those from the International Crisis Group, fear the situation may not remain calm for ever. They say any renewed violence could see those who are relocating swiftly return to the safety of IDP camps.

"The challenge now is to make sure that people are informed, and make an informed decision about their return," Luis Vieria, chief of mission of the International Organization for Migration, told IRIN.

He said the government was working hard on a system to monitor the returnees and defuse any potential tensions.

For Da Silva, making peace with his neighbour, who attacked him with a machete over a bag of rice during the crisis, will be vital to the success of his relocation.

"Two years ago it was difficult and everyone was hungry. Now I will try to work on the relationship with my neighbour … as it is better living at home than under a tent."

But not all the IDPs feel safe returning home. "For some people, living next to the person who threatened your life will not be an option, no matter how hard we try," said Vieria.

So far, only a handful of the 100,000 displaced throughout the country are showing an interest in returning home.

Plans on how to deal with those who are unwilling to return home are being developed, but, for the moment, the government is focusing on those IDPs who are willing to leave, and those who pose particular problems, such as some 1,500 people living in the corridors of the national hospital, who are causing safety and health concerns.

The Norwegian Refugee Council and the government have built transitional shelters on a new site in the Becora section of Dili, and are arranging for the relocation of IDPs from the hospital.

"Dialogue is ongoing both within the camp and also between the camp residents and the receiving community at the new site to make sure that everything is in order to make sure people can move," said Vieria.

Da Silva feels that many more IDPs will soon start thinking about leaving.

"From what I have seen, the majority of IDPs do want to go home,” said Da Silva,
because they now have seen they are getting support from the government.”


Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Health & Nutrition, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs



Copyright © IRIN 2008
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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