MARCH REFUGEE RETURNS HIT HIGHEST LEVEL IN TWO YEARS
Refugee returns from West Timor, Indonesia, surged to nearly 4,000 in March, the highest monthly total in two years, the East Timor office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported today.
The total number of repatriated East Timorese refugees since October 1999 now stands at 198,000, and UNHCR estimates there are less than 60,000 refugees remaining in the camps across the border.
“We expect the majority of these (60,000) people to return,” UNHCR Spokesperson Jake Morland said at a press briefing today. “UNHCR and its partners are encouraging as many refugees as possible to return before independence (on 20 May) so they can participate in the celebrations.”
In a related matter, 19 refugees living in South Sulawesi, Indonesia, arrived in East Timor this week on a “go-and-see” visit organised by the UNHCR. The group represents an estimated 6,000 refugees living in Sulawesi, and it is hoped that the initial visit will encourage this community to return home.
UNHCR attributes the increased returns to the now completed harvest in West Timor, ongoing UNHCR and UNTAET reconciliation activities, and continued efforts by Indonesia to resolve the refugee problem.
Just last weekend, Indonesia and UNTAET agreed on an action plan to promote the return of refugees still living in West Timor. Both sides agreed they should consolidate efforts to provide relevant and accurate information to the refugees and assist in their repatriation.
To clarify justice-related issues pertaining to the militia violence in 1999 that forced the refugees into West Timor, East Timor’s Second Transitional Government and UNTAET issued Monday a detailed policy statement to counter misinformation and provide returning refugees with an understanding of the justice structures in place in East Timor.
The policy makes clear that the majority of refugees still in West Timor did not commit crimes, and outlines how the perpetrators of “lesser crimes” will be eligible to participate in the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation established earlier this year.
Returning refugees suspected of committing “serious crimes” in 1999 – such as murder, torture, sexual offences, Crimes Against Humanity and other large-scale crimes – will be dealt with by the criminal justice system established by UNTAET in 2000.
MAHIDI MILITIAMAN CONVICTED, LOLOTOE TRIAL RESUMES
A Special Panel for Serious Crimes in East Timor sentenced a former Mahidi militiaman Wednesday to four years in prison for his role in a murder during the violent aftermath of the UN-run ballot on the future of the territory.
Also Wednesday, a major Crimes Against Humanity trial resumed after a three-week recess.
The three-member panel of judges sent militiaman Anigio de Oliviera to prison after he was found guilty of being an accomplice to the murder of Fernando Gomes in Ainaro district on 5 September 1999. It was the first decision handed down by the panel, one of two currently deliberating on Serious Crimes cases being pursued by UNTAET prosecutors.
A separate case – the so-called “Lolotoe trial” – resumed three weeks after a defence-team bid to dismiss the three sitting judges was rejected by Judge Administrator Aderito Tilman.
All three defendants in the case – KMP militia commanders Jose Cardoso Ferreira and João França da Silva and former Guda village chief Sabino Gouveia Leite – declined Wednesday to give opening statements to the court. Witnesses called by the prosecution will be giving testimony when the trial resumes on 8 April.
The Lolotoe case is the second of 10 priority cases to be tried by the Special Panels. The three defendants have been accused of waging a campaign of deadly terror in Lolotoe sub-district during the months surrounding the 1999 UN Popular Consultation on the future of East Timor.
The two KMP commanders are accused of illegal imprisonment, murder, torture, rape, persecution and inhumane treatment of civilians in Lolotoe sub-district, near the border with West Timor, Indonesia. Gouveia Leite is accused of being an accomplice in the offences allegedly committed by the KMP and members of the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI).
JAPANESE MILITARY DELIVERS EQUIPMENT TO SUAI DISTRICT
A Japanese military cargo vessel, the Ohsumi, today unloaded a vast array of engineering equipment in Suai district, employing a hovercraft that ran eight sorties between the boat and the beachfront.
A crowd of some 200 locals gathered at the beach to watch the high-speed amphibious hovercraft speed across the water and then climb onto the beach, deflate, and unload its cargo.
The heavy equipment – including dump trucks, excavators, bulldozers and steam rollers – will be used by the Suai-based members of the Japanese Engineering Group (JEG) that began arriving in East Timor earlier this month to join the UN Peacekeeping Force (PKF).
The 690-strong JEG, which is arriving in stages to replace departing Pakistan and Bangladesh PKF engineers, will also be based in Dili and Oecussi districts. After leaving Suai, a district bordering Indonesia, the Ohsumi is scheduled to make similar equipment deliveries by hovercraft to Dili on 5 April and Oecussi on 9 April.
Work to be undertaken by the JEG in East Timor includes improvement and maintenance of infrastructure such as bridges, roads, and river embankments, as well as rebuilding assistance for schools and other public facilities.
POSTAL SERVICE, PORTUGUESE BANK TO BUILD ‘CITIZEN SHOPS’
The Postal Service of East Timor and the Portuguese bank Banco Nacional Ultramarino (BNU) today signed an agreement to open “Citizen Shops” offering a variety of services in the Post Offices of Dili and district capitals.
Minister of Transport and Telecommunication Ovídio de Jesus Amaral and BNU General Director José Manuel Tubal Gonçalves signed a protocol of cooperation during a ceremony attended by UN Transitional Administrator Sergio Vieira de Mello.
“This protocol is further evidence that the postal service continues to deserve the attention of the East Timor Government and international donors,” Vieira de Mello said in a brief speech.
The Citizen Shops will provide postal, telephone, fax and banking services as well as public utility payment options to East Timorese. The first Citizen Shop is due to open 1 May in the Baucau District Post Office.
The protocol of cooperation will last for two years.