Subject: E Timor leaders, Holbrooke urge refugees to ignore lies and return

East Timor leaders, Holbrooke urge refugees to ignore lies and return

AILEU, East Timor, Nov 23 (AFP) - East Timorese leaders Tuesday joined forces with US ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke to denounce as lies tales of terror spreading among refugees still stuck in West Timor camps.

"The contrast between the peaceful atmosphere here and the atmosphere of intimidation and even terror in the camps ... is dramatic," Holbrooke said after talks here with independence leader Xanana Gusmao.

Gusmao lent his voice to Holbrooke's reassurances to the refugees that it was safe to return home to East Timor from Indonesian West Timor, speaking in Portuguese, Indonesian and the local Tetum dialect.

"I know there is a lot of information that scares you. Some are saying that there continues to be a war, violent confrontations, others are saying they will treat you badly and threaten to punish all of you that are there, which is pure lies," Gusmao said.

He said although there had been some problems, efforts had been made to correct them and hundreds of thousands of people could now return to their homes.

"We are prepared to receive you. We also need you to construct and edify our country, and the message is that you should not feel scared.

"Come, come as soon as possible."

Emerging after an hour of talks with Gusmao, who is widely expected to be the first president of an independent East Timor, Holbrooke said they had discussed "at length" the issue of refugees sheltering in West Timor camps.

As he arrived here Tuesday to a warm welcome, Holbrooke praised the East Timorese for their courageous struggle for independence.

"You will be the first new independent nation of the 21st century. Your suffering has been watched by people around the world and your courage has been admired," Holbrooke told the crowd.

About 200 Falintil resistance fighters, some of them armed, were among those welcoming the US team, which included Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Stanley Roth.

Similar reassurances were made to the refugees earlier Tuesday by Nobel laureate Bishop Carlos Ximenes Felipe Belo after talks with Holbrooke.

"Now the situation is good, it is improving ... do not believe the lies spread by the militias in West Timor," Belo said in the local Tetum language after the meeting, according to a journalist who translated his statement for AFP.

Before the talks with Gusmao, Holbrooke also raised the issue in his address, having visited a border refugee camp in West Timor on Monday.

"People in the camps are being told lies about the situation in East Timor. If they could see this scene today they would not be afraid to come home to the peace and freedom that you have achieved," he told the crowd.

He said he briefed Gusmao on the agreement reached Monday between the Indonesian security forces and the International Force for East Timor (Interfet) to speed up the repatriation of refugees.

Gusmao was satisfied with the agreement, he added.

Gusmao arrived back in East Timor on October 22 after spending seven years in Indonesian jails for his role in the resistance movement.

Aileu, about 25 kilometres (15 miles) south of Dili, has become the guerrillas' headquarters since they came down from the jungle hideouts which had been their homes since Jakarta invaded the territory in 1975. Indonesia formally annexed the territory a year later.

East Timor is now under UN administration aided by the multinational Interfet military force after the people voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia in a ballot held by the United Nations on August 30.

Violence erupted across the territory after the results ignited the fury of military-backed pro-Jakarta militias who unleashed a campaign of terror and destruction causing half of the 800,000 residents to flee their homes.

Of the 260,000 who fled or were deported to West Timor, about 230,000 are still in camps there.

Holbrooke was due to end his East Timor visit later in the day.

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