Former Soldiers Dock in East Timor on Long Journey Home

Published November 22nd, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

Demobilized Indonesian soldiers from East Timor and their families took their first steps on home soil Wednesday since the territory was engulfed by violence 14 months ago, a repatriation official said. 

A boat carrying some 60 ex-soldiers and their families, plus seven former civil servants, docked at East Timor's port of Com at 1.30 PM (0430 GMT) after a 22 hour voyage from West Timor, International Organization for Migration (IOM) co-ordinator Chris Gascon told AFP. 

"Twenty people are now on their way to secondary locations, and the rest are still being processed," Gascon said by phone from East Timor's capital Dili. 

Most of the returnees would spend Wednesday night aboard the IOM-chartered boat, before travelling by truck and bus to their home villages in the eastern districts of Los Palos and Lautem, he added. 

UN police reported that the port area was calm as the former soldiers arrived, Gascon said. 

The repatriation is considered sensitive as some of the East Timorese soldiers and police reportedly joined in the pro-Jakarta militia-led destruction of the territory in response to its overwhelming vote for independence last year. 

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has said the returning soldiers held low-ranking auxiliary positions and were not front-line troops. 

Militias forced an estimated 250,000 people across the border into Indonesian-ruled West Timor as the tiny half-island territory was engulfed by flames and violence in the weeks that followed the August 30 vote. 

Indonesian military (TNI) commanders bused many of their personnel and families across the border as the violence rose. 

UNHCR staff who screened the returnees before they left West Timor Tuesday to ensure they were going home voluntarily also checked the likelihood of reconciliation-related problems on their return, IOM spokesman Chris Lom said. 

Gascon said the returnees were being processed and having their luggage checked late Wednesday before starting the final leg of their journey home on Thursday -- JAKARTA (AFP)  

 

 

 

 

© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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