Dili, 9 April 2002


SRSG Sergio Vieira de Mello is scheduled to travel to the border town of Batugade tomorrow to celebrate the return of the 200,000th refugee from West Timor, Indonesia.

More than 3,000 refugees have returned to East Timor from refugee camps in West Timor since the beginning of this month alone. The East Timor office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) attributes the current upsurge in returns to East Timor’s upcoming presidential elections and independence celebrations. Nearly 4,000 came back last month, the highest monthly total in two years.

More than 300 refugees crossed the border into Suai district today, many of whom told aid officials that they were eager to vote in East Timor’s 14 April Presidential election.

“I have come back home to vote and live here since our country is now going to be independent,” Justina Soares Moniz, one of the returnees at the Suai Transit Center, said today.

Another returnee, Sofia Ana Moniz added, “I was listening to Radio UNTAET and I heard that my country was going to hold presidential elections to be followed by independence. I just had to come.”

District Civil Registration officials have set a mobile registration site at the Refugee Transit Centre in Suai to register the returnees so that those eligible will be able to vote on Sunday.

The impetus for refugees to return was likely increased on 4 April when independence leader and presidential candidate Xanana Gusmão crossed into West Timor in a UNHCR convoy and addressed mass meetings of refugees and their leaders in the towns of Atambua and Kefa. The meetings were attended by more than 10,000 refugees.


The Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation has sent representatives to districts throughout East Timor to select the organisation’s first Regional Commissioners.

“We have been given a task that is very important to reconciliation in our country, we are moving as fast as we can to implement the mechanisms needed – and it is a great step forward to start selecting our representatives across the nation,” the Commission’s chairman, human rights lawyer Aniceto Guterres Lopes said today.

Guterres Lopes was speaking on behalf of the organisation’s seven National Commissioners, who were appointed on 21 January and include a former political prisoner, a former civil servant under the Indonesian Administration, and priests from the Catholic and Protestant Churches.

The Commission has already interviewed Regional Commissioner candidates in East Timor’s Manatuto, Baucau, Lospalos and Viqueque districts, and plans to conduct further interviews in coming days in the Dili, Liquica and Oecussi districts. The Regional Commissioners will carry out the Commission’s work in villages and towns across East Timor.

The Commission’s functions include: supporting the reintegration of less-serious offenders into their communities through community-based reconciliation mechanisms; documenting the nature of and reasons for human rights violations in East Timor between 1974 and 1999; and recommending ways to prevent future human rights violations.