Subject: AFP: UN delegation to visit West Timor refugee camps

Friday, April 6 5:45 PM SGT

UN delegation to visit West Timor refugee camps

JAKARTA, April 6 (AFP) -

UN officials will tour camps holding tens of thousands of East Timorese refugees in Indonesian-ruled West Timor next week to encourage them to return home, a spokesman said Friday.

United Nations operations to repatriate the refugees have been frozen since last September when three of the organisation's refugee workers were killed by a mob in the West Timor border town of Atambua.

Apart from several brief trips by some officials from the UN administration in East Timor (UNTAET), there has been no official redeployment of United Nations or any foreign aid staff on the Indonesian half of Timor island.

Estimates of the number of refugees still in the squalid camps vary from 50,000 to 100,000, as UN refugee workers have never been able to conduct an official count.

UNTAET spokesman Peter Biro said next week's four-day visit was at the invitation of Indonesia's military commander in West Timor, Major General Willem da Costa. He said UNTAET chief of staff N. Parameswaran will lead a delegation, and that it will include UN peacekeepers and military observers.

"He's asked them to come and disseminate information to the refugees about conditions back in East Timor," Biro told AFP.

The UN's refugee agency has repeatedly complained that anti-independence East Timorese militia, who are virtually in control of the camps, are flooding them with disinformation about East Timor to stop the refugees returning.

Biro said the delegation would distribute videos, brochures and posters outlining conditions in East Timor to counter the misinformation.

They will also carry Easter messages from the Bishops of Dili and Nascimento, urging the refugees to come back, Biro added.

The team will fly to West Timor on Sunday and visit camps around the capital Kupang, in Kefamenanu and Atambua over the four days.

"There is also a tentative plan to arrange for a boat to bring refugees back here from Kupang on April 18," Biro said.

Some 250,000 refugees were driven over the border during a wave of pro-Jakarta militia-led violence in the wake of East Timor's vote for independence on August 30 1999.

The Jesuit Refugee Service, whose local aid workers have kept up visits to the camps, reported last month that refugees were "suffering great hunger" and had not received food aid since January.

"We are dying, it would be better to live in prison than to endure this great suffering day after day," one of the refugees was quoted as saying by the Jesuits.

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