EAST TIMOR READIES FOR MASSIVE INDEPENDENCE CELEBRATION
Workers are busily putting finishing touches to the massive site near Dili at which East Timor will tomorrow host the new millennium’s first national independence celebration.
Some 95 official delegations have arrived or are en route to Dili, some 400 journalists have been accredited, and untold thousands of East Timorese are heading into the capital from the districts.
Tomorrow night’s scheduled events will include an elaborate cultural ceremony before UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and UN General Assembly President Han Seung-soo will address East Timor during the final minutes of the United Nations’ two-and-a-half-year Transitional Administration. At midnight, Annan will hand over power to Parliament President Francisco “Lu-Olo” Guterres.
The UN flag will then be lowered, the new East Timorese national flag will be raised, and Lu-Olo will declare East Timor’s birth as an independent nation. Singer and human rights activist Barbara Hendricks will sing as the flag is lowered. Xanana Gusmão, the landslide winner of the 14 April election, will then be sworn in as President and give an address to his nation punctuated with a huge fireworks display.
On the morning of 20 May the new Government of East Timor will be sworn in, and the National Parliament – elected in August 2001 to draft a Constitution – will hold its inaugural session. In the afternoon, the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Nations (CPLP) will hold a summit in Dili.
(A full 19-20 May events programme is attached)
UNHCR TO END TIMORESE REFUGEE STATUS IN SIX MONTHS
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers announced today that effective 31 December the refugee agency will withdraw refugee status from East Timorese who fled to Indonesia following the 1999 Popular Consultation.
Lubbers announced the move this afternoon at a press conference in Dili after a meeting with President-elect Xanana Gusmão.
“The situation [in East Timor] has normalized, so six months after independence we’ll use the cessation clause…this means that six months from now East Timorese outside East Timor will no longer be considered refugees,” the High Commissioner said.
“In the coming six months we will continue to facilitate people to make their own choices to return voluntarily to East Timor,” Lubbers added.
At the press conference President-elect Gusmão praised the UNHCR for having repatriated more than 200,000 refugees since 1999, and said he agreed with the six-month timeframe “in order to motivate our countrymen to return home.”
Lubbers is tomorrow scheduled to visit the community of Hera, near Dili, to meet with returnees and visit a home provided by the UNHCR as part of its distribution of some 35,000 shelter kits.
On Monday the High Commissioner is scheduled to fly to the town of Batugade where he will visit the Indonesian border and possibly witness the first return of East Timorese refugees to their homeland after the territory’s transition to full independence.
More than 207,000 refugees have returned to East Timor since October 1999. In recent days, up to 500 refugees have been returning daily, with more than 3,000 people back so far this month. Some 50,000 refugees still remain outside their homeland.
“Refugees are increasingly choosing to return home, and their countrymen are welcoming them back with open arms,” Lubbers said in a statement, adding that UNHCR believes “there’s no longer a valid reason for the remaining refugees not to come home.”
As some of the remaining refugees are former Indonesian civil servants, they may be among those East Timorese who opt to integrate in Indonesia. The UNHCR is funding local integration projects to assist people who want to stay in Indonesia and will support Indonesian efforts through mid 2003 to settle some 3,000 families in areas of the archipelago outside of West Timor, mainly in East Nusa Tenggara Province.