Subject: UNHCR will reopen base in East Nusa Tenggara

The Jakarta Post September 14, 2001

UNHCR will reopen base in East Nusa Tenggara

KUPANG, East Nusa Tenggara (JP): The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has decided to reopen its base in West Timor to help channel humanitarian aid to some 290,000 East Timorese refugees currently settling in West Timor, East Nusa Tenggara.

The decision was made by High Commissioner Assistant Soren Jasson Petterson during his visit to West Timor to monitor the refugees' development and to lay a wreath on the site where three UNHCR staff members were slain last year.

After meeting with East Nusa Tenggara Governor Piet A. Tallo, Petterson told The Jakarta Post in Kupang on Wednesday that the reopening of the base would be help before the end of 2001, but its presence would be directly under the United Nations coordination and would also involve local personnel.

"The UNHCR has recommended the UN headquarters in New York on the reopening of the base in West Timor with the aim of giving better service to the refugees and at the same time relieving the burden on the Indonesian government," said Petterson, accompanied by Raymond Hall, the UNHCR regional manager, Jean Marie Fakhuri, the director of UNHCR Asia Pacific bureau, Gansalo Vargas, the UNHCR executive assistant, and Kemala Angraeni Ahmil, the UNHCR external relations officer.

Apart from extending humanitarian relief, Petterson added that they would cooperate with the Indonesian government, particularly the East Nusa Tenggara administration, in seeking concrete measures for the gradual repatriation of East Timorese refugees.

Udayana IX Military Commander May. Gen. Wellem T. da Costa separately welcomed the UNHCR's decision to reestablish its base in West Timor. He said the Indonesian Military (TNI) would guarantee the security of UN staff members stationed there as their presence would be of great help to the Indonesian government in handling refugees' problems.

During the visit, the UNHCR entourage held a mass prayer and laid a wreath on the site where three of its staff members were murdered in Atambua on Sept. 6 last year.

At least 257 families of former Mahidi (Live and Die for Indonesia) militiamen, or a total of 1,023 people, have confirmed that they will return to their homeland on Friday, Sept. 14. These people, originally from the Ainaro-Suai district, have been staying in West Timor as refugees since the outbreak of the political turmoil and violence in the wake of the self-determination poll two years ago.

They have decided to return to East Timor after obtaining a written guarantee signed by 59 traditional figures, the chief of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), Sergio Viera de Mello, presidential candidate Xanana Gusmao and Bishop Belo on July 7 in Sahlele, an Indonesian-East Timorese border area.

Former Mahidi militia commander Cancio Lopes de Carvalho, in an interview with the Post in Kupang, said on Thursday that the decision by most of the militiamen's families to return home must be taken as the disposition of true East Timorese and that other refugees must therefore follow in their footsteps.

At present, he noted, there was a change in the paradigms prevailing among the leaders and people of East Timor. East Timorese refugees, although formerly belonging to an opposing camp, are now welcomed in East Timor as fellow countrymen.

"As a former chief of Mahidi, I have sincerely let them go. I myself will return to East Timor to witness the process of the election of our first president. Even if I am detained and brought to court, I'll be well prepared," said Cancio, who is known as a reconciliation figure.

A report from Sahlele, meanwhile, said that when they set foot again in their homeland, the 1,023 refugees would be accorded a traditional welcome in a special ceremony to be attended by thousands of East Timorese and led by Xanana Gusmao, Bishop Belo and other East Timorese figures. (45)

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