Subject: Repatriation of Timorese refugees resumes after year

Repatriation of Timorese refugees resumes after year

GENEVA, March 2 (Reuters) - An international resettlement group said on Friday that it had restarted repatriating East Timorese refugees from the Indonesian west of the island after nearly a year-long hiatus due to insecurity.

A ship carrying 495 refugees left the port of Kupang for Dili after the East Timorese were interviewed to ensure their return was voluntary, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

"This is a big breakthrough," spokeswoman Niurka Pineiro told Reuters.

The Geneva-based group said it hoped to win U.N. security clearance to resume twice weekly ferries from West Timor, where 80,000 East Timorese are thought to remain in camps. They fled violence by pro-Jakarta militias in the wake of an August 1999 ballot in favour of independence from Indonesia.

The IOM helped return home 120,000 East Timorese between October 1999 and March 31, 2000, when operations virtually halted due to threats against aid agencies -- culminating in the murder of three U.N. refugee workers in West Timor in September.

But the IOM, which said 73 people had registered for the next ferry on Sunday, expressed concern over the presence of a former militia deputy leader as Friday's ship prepared to leave.

IOM staff recognised Elizariou Perreira, deputy head of the Aitarak pro-Jakarta militia, a group "largely responsible for the destruction of Dili and the deportation of its inhabitants," the spokeswoman said. He had a list of the registered refugees.

When IOM staff asked the Indonesian East Timor Refugees Taskforce, which organised the repatriation, about the presence of Perreira, he was identified "as a member of Indonesian military intelligence attached to the provincial command," Pineiro told a news briefing in Geneva.

"Having this person is going to be a deterrent for others to go back. If word gets back to the refugees in camps, they may fear reprisals later if he has their names," she told Reuters.

Perreira is close to Aitarak boss Eurico Guterres, now on trial in Jakarta on charges of inciting violence in the West Timor border town of Atambua last year, the IOM said.


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