Refugee repatriation agencies hailed the return to East Timor of a group of demobilized soldiers as a success, but refugee leaders in West Timor said Monday reported attacks on returning soldiers were setting back further repatriation efforts.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the demobilized soldiers and their families were welcomed by hundreds of well-wishers when they docked at the eastern port of Com last Wednesday.
The only signs they were not welcomed by all had been some brief scuffles and the stoning of a bus carrying a group of returnees from the port to their village in Los Palos, on the territory's eastern tip, UNHCR spokesman Jake Morland said.
"It was a simple stoning, nobody was hurt or even hit and it was quickly smoothed over, and they've all been assimilated back into their communities," Morland told AFP by phone from East Timor's capital Dili.
"One man was intimidated and lightly beaten up but he's fine and the misunderstanding didn't last very long and it all ended peacefully with handshakes and hugs."
However former soldiers and refugees still in West Timor said they believed reports that several returning soldiers were beaten up on their return, said an ex-militia leader who has pledged to bring 6,000 refugees home.
"Everyone has heard about it in Kupang. It's affecting their trust in the returning home process. They're not so game about returning," ex-militia leader Joanico Cesario told AFP by phone from Kupang.
"They're thinking now that going home will be tough."
Cesario is one of four breakaway ex-militia leaders negotiating with East Timorese leaders to bring home their estimated 20,000 supporters.
The splinter group has written to the UN Security Council offering to reveal who was behind last year's anti-independence violence in East Timor, in exchange for legal and security guarantees.
Cesario said the four wanted a committee to be formed to protect and monitor the reintegration of returnees.
"It should last until the first elections, and then be dissolved," he said.
Cesario said he was expecting a decision from East Timorese leaders in Dili on Wednesday as to whether they were ready to accept a proposed visit to the southern district of Ainaro by leaders of the Mahidi militia, Cancio and Nemecio Lopes de Carvalho, who were based there.
The visit would be one of a series of proposed visits by West Timor-based leaders to UN-administered East Timor, and East Timorese independence leaders to refugees in West Timor, which Cesario and the Lopes de Carvalho brothers are negotiating with leaders in Dili.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM), which chartered the boat to ship the returnees from Kupang to Com, said they received an enthusiastic reception.
"All went smoothly in Com. There were no reported incidents and in general the population was very welcoming," IOM's East Timor co-ordinator, Chris Gascon told AFP by phone from Dili.
Last week's operation was the largest organized repatriation since UN and other international aid agencies pulled out of West Timor in the wake of the murder of three UN workers in the border town of Atambua on September 6.
Violent anti-independence militias forced an estimated 250,000 people over the border into Indonesian-ruled West Timor after the territory voted for independence from Indonesia on August 30 last year.
The UNHCR says around 170,000 have returned home -- JAKARTA (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)