Subject: First large group of Timor refugees returns home from Australia

First large group of Timor refugees returns home from Australia

DILI, East Timor, Dec 5 (AFP) - A passenger jet landed in Dili on Sunday to bring home the first large group of refugees who were evacuated from the besieged UN compound in September. The Kampuchea L011 brought 213 East Timorese home from Perth, Australia.

"It's a big airlift," said Simona Opitz of the International Organization for Migration. The organization has been arranging transport to return East Timorese from Indonesia, Australia and other countries.

Opitz said a second L011 jet is expected to bring more than 300 refugees from Melbourne on Monday.

The condition of the many children who disembarked from the big aircraft clutching Teddy bears or guitars and dressed in smart new looking clothes contrasted with the sick-looking barefoot youngsters who gathered in Indonesian West Timor to come home.

One young man carried a basket of bread as he walked a cross the tarmac, his eyes focused straight ahead.

"Pa!" he suddenly screamed and ran towards his father. A woman in tears embraced him, and a young man kissed his hand.

Another refugee Atanasio Guterres said he had been evacuated like others on September 10 from the compound of the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET).

"The Australian government said the situation is safe now and we can come back," Gueterres said.

Sonia da Carvalho carried her five-month old baby, Shaili, from the plane.

"I'm happy because now I'm in my homeland," Carvalho said, smiling.

She and about 1,500 other East Timorese had sought shelter in the UNAMET compound, which was subjected to intense gunfire, most of it into the air, from Indonesian armed forces for several days.

They were initially evacuated to Darwin and then moved to other Australian cities like Perth and Melbourne.

Opitz said smaller airlift of the UNAMET refugees had brought home about 169 people in late October and early November.

More than 110,000 East Timorese refugees have returned since international peacekeepers arived to secure the territory after the orgy of violence by militia backed by the Indonesian military following the September 4 announcement that East Timorese had voted overwhelmingly for independence.

About 140,000 East Timorese are still in West Timor, according to Indonesian figures provided to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR).


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