Subject: UNHCR says it has helped repatriate 188,646 E Timor refugees

UNHCR says it has helped repatriate some 190,000 East Timor refugees

JAKARTA, Oct 30 (AFP) - The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said Tuesday that it has helped repatriate 188,646 East Timorese refugees from Indonesia's West Timor in the past two years.

"Since October 1999, and in partnership with the IOM and UNTAET, UNHCR has now assisted some 188,646 East Timorese in their voluntary return," a UNHCR press release said.

It was referring to the International Organization for Migration and the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor

The UN body said that in October 2001 alone it registered and assisted the return of 3,233 East Timorese refugees, the highest number to gone home in a single month since March last year when 9,485 people did so.

An estimated quarter of a million people fled or were forced into West Timor in the wake of East Timor's overwhelming vote for independence on August 30, 1999, after 24 years of enforced Indonesian rule.

Local pro-Jakarta militias, backed by the Indonesian military, unleashed a wave of killing and destruction in response to the vote.

The UNHCR said it expected many thousand more to cross back into East Timor in time for the Christmas celebration in the Christian territory.

"The proactive approach of the government of Indonesia together with the reconciliation process driven by the East Timorese leadership adds further impetus to encouraging the remaining refugees in making decisions on their future," it said.

The UNHCR also confirmed that it will extend its voluntary repatriation operation supporting the East Timorese refugees until June next year.

The UNHCR and other international relief agencies pulled out of West Timor after three foreign UNHCR staff were murdered by a mob in September last year.

It is now operating out of East Timor in the repatriation operation.

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