Subject: More refugees return to ETimor but barred from fetching families

More refugees return to East Timor but barred from fetching families

DILI, East Timor, Oct 23 (AFP) - More refugees have crossed into East Timor by land, but the Indonesian military has refused to allow them to go back and get their families, a UN refugee official said Saturday.

"At the end of yesterday (Friday) around 1,000 people crossed the border near Maliana," Jacques Franquin of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told AFP.

Many were men who filed over to see if it was safe to bring over their wives and children from Indonesian West Timor, he said. But the Indonesian military refused to let them return.

"The people that crossed said that after they came to East Timor, some wanted to go back and pick up their families but they couldn't. They were refused by the army and the militia," said Franquin, who was heading for the border area later Saturday.

They crossed at Soso, four kilometers (2.4 miles) from Maliana, after being released from several camps in the Turiskain area of West Timor. "It appears that the border was open for a couple of hours but after that they sealed the border again," Franquin said.

He added that 25 trucks had also apparently picked up refugees from several camps in the Turiskain area and taken them to Atambua, a border town.

"My analysis is that instead of creating a spontaneous movement of people they (the Indonesians) will try to organize the movement (back over the border) by truck," he said.

The first official organized crossing by land happened on Thursday when 114 people in 14 vehicles were escorted to the border near Batugade by the Indonesian military.

Around 2,500 refugees crossed the border on foot from a camp near Atambua earlier in the week.

Then, Indonesian soldiers ordered pro-Jakarta militiamen to release the entire population from a single camp.

In Brussels Friday Sadako Ogata, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said more than 250,000 East Timorese were still in West Timor and other parts of Indonesia.

Ogata said the UN refugee agency was trying to ease their return.

"We see the situation in East and West Timor as a whole," she told a press briefing after meeting with Poul Nielson, the European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Assistance.

"Already, over 7,000 East Timorese have gone back from West Timor and other parts of the island, and we are trying to make sure we have full access to the refugees," she said.

Ogata said the UNHCR was setting up transit centers in East Timor "because the destruction inside East Timor is considerable and we have to give them some kind of assured shelter."

A militia rampage after East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia on August 30 drove hundreds of thousands of refugees out of the territory, including many who were forcibly deported.


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