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In first trips by sea, 2,000 East Timorese return

In first trips by sea, some 2,000 displaced East Timorese return home from West Timor: UNHCR

22 October -- The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today reported that almost 2,000 displaced East Timorese made the 10-hour trip from West Timor to Dili in the first returns by boat.

Almost 10,000 people have gone back, either spontaneously or in an organised fashion, to East Timor since the UN agency started its repatriation campaign earlier this month.

UNHCR said spontaneous returns overland, which stopped abruptly on Wednesday, still had not resumed today. Thousands of people are believed to be stuck on the West Timor side of the border in makeshift camps where, with the onset of the rainy season, there is increased risk of disease. Aid agencies will truck in medical kits and other relief items to the Kupang area tonight.

Meanwhile, the multinational force (INTERFET) announced that it had landed in the East Timorese enclave of Oecussi to pave the way for delivery of humanitarian aid. The enclave, which is surrounded by the Indonesian territory of West Timor, is the site of reported killings, the UN spokesman said. INTERFET detained about 40 militia and disarmed them of knives, swords and pipe-guns.

In other developments, the members of the international commission of inquiry on East Timor are expected to assemble in Geneva during the first half of November before heading directly to the region, UN officials said today.

A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights told reporters in Geneva that a number of other experts from the UN Commission on Human Rights were also expected to travel to the region in the first half of November, including the Special Rapporteurs on torture, violence against women, and arbitrary executions. The working group on disappearances and the Secretary-General's Special Representative on internally displaced persons are also scheduled to visit East Timor.

Meanwhile, independence leader Xanana Gusmao made an emotional return to East Timor last night. Mr. Gusmao, who for most of the last seven years had been imprisoned in Jakarta for his political activities, told thousands of local supporters in downtown Dili that "we can leave behind" all of our suffering. "Today, we see our future," he said. "This land is ours."


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