Subject: U.N. to let aid workers return to West Timor camps

U.N. to let aid workers return to West Timor camps

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 3 (Reuters) - The United Nations said on Friday it would allow staff members to return to Indonesian West Timor for the first time since three U.N. relief workers were murdered there last September.

The move would allow U.N. aid workers back into West Timor refugee camps housing some 100,000 East Timorese, who have lived in the camps since pro-Jakarta militiamen drove them from their homes and across the border after the territory's 1999 vote for independence from Indonesia.

"The decision to permit U.N. staff to return is subject to the completion of an agreement specifying security responsibilities with the government of Indonesia," U.N. chief spokesman Fred Eckhard said.

U.N. employees would be allowed to conduct emergency or humanitarian relief operations in line with the recommendations of a U.N. security assessment mission that visited West Timor July 8 to 14, Eckhard told reporters.

Foreign relief workers fled West Timor after a militia-led mob stormed an office of the U.N. high commissioner for refugees in the border town of Atambua on Sept. 6, 2000, killing three U.N. employees and some 20 civilians.

The three victims were stabbed and their bodies dragged into the street and burned.

In May, a court in Jakarta sentenced six men to up to 20 months in prison for the killings, saying the deaths could not be directly linked to the defendants because of the rampaging mob. The light sentences sparked an international outcry.

Neighboring East Timor has been under U.N. administration since voting overwhelmingly in August 1999 to split from Indonesia after 23 years of often brutal rule. It is expected to gain full independence in early 2002 after a general election to be held later this month.

At the time of the 1999 independence vote, members of pro-Jakarta militias killed thousands of East Timorese and forced many more into Indonesian West Timor.

New Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri this week issued a decree widening the scope of a special court set up by her predecessor to try those behind the bloodshed.

The court, which has yet to be established, was originally barred from hearing cases of alleged crimes committed before the independence vote, when some of the worst killings took place.

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