Dili, 6 May 2002


UNHCR officials said today they are hopeful that East Timor’s fast-approaching independence will be a catalyst for mass refugee returns from West Timor and elsewhere over the next two weeks.

More than 350 refugees crossed into East Timor today at the Batugade junction point, many of whom cited Xanana Gusmão’s victory in the 14 April presidential election and East Timor’s 20 May independence as their main reasons for returning.

The President-elect and UNHCR officials late last week visited South Sulawesi, Indonesia, in a continuing bid to encourage the estimated 1,000 East Timorese refugees based there to also return home.

Gusmão and the UNHCR officials held meetings with refugees, religious leaders, the Governor of South Sulawesi, H.Z. Palaguna, among others.

Gusmao’s visit to Atambua, West Timor, early last month, was cited as a major factor in prompting more than 6,000 refugees to return to East Timor – the highest monthly total since March 2000.

Nearly 205,000 refugees have returned to East Timor since late 1999.