Angola + 4 more

UNHCR Briefing Notes: Zambia, Timor, Balkans

This is a summary of what was said by the UNHCR spokesperson at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations. Quoted text from this briefing note may be attributed to the UNHCR spokesperson named below left
Kris Janowski

1. Zambia

Transfer of Angolan refugees from the border area in Sinjembela to a new camp in Nangweshi, 120 kilometres inland, continues. 6,000 refugees have already been transferred with 4,000 still remaining in the border area. UNHCR workers on the ground estimate that the operation will be completed within 4-6 weeks, despite concerns that heavy rains in the Zambezi flood plains could turn roads into mud and slow down the transfer. Some stretches of the main access road have already been occasionally flooded, causing delays even for four wheel drive trucks.

Another group of about 3,000 Angolans, who also need to be transferred inland, remains in the border area of Kalabo, waiting for the arrival of the dry season to be transferred inland by air. In January, UNHCR flew 2,000 people from Kalabo to camps in the interior of Zambia but the air-bridge was suspended at the end of January, when runways were flooded.

More than 26,000 people fleeing an intensifying civil war in Angola have arrived in Zambia since last October. Some 19,000 have already been transferred to existing refugee settlements in Meheba and Mayukwayukwa, as well as the new camp in Nangweshi. UNHCR however remains on alert, following reports of renewed clashes in Angola's Moxico province, which could cause further refugee movements into north-western Zambia.

2. Timor

Departures continue from refugee camps in the Kupang area, barely two weeks before the expiration of a March 31 deadline set by the Indonesian government for refugees to decide if they wish to return to East Timor or remain in Indonesia.

On Wednesday, more than 250 Moslem East Timorese left Noel Baki camp to resettle in South Sulawesi in Indonesia. Another group of 170 refugees went to UNHCR's transit centre to wait for a ship that would take them to Dili in East Timor.

Around 800 people are now in the transit centre - all of them from the Kupang camps, which shelter mostly pro-Indonesian East Timorese. While the overall number of returns in recent weeks remains small - an average of 300 per day - significant departures are taking place from the Kupang area that could give momentum to the UNHCR-IOM repatriation program.

The people at the transit centre include around 60 East Timorese who have resigned from the Indonesian Army, and their families. They total around 500 and are now in their second week in the transit centre.

UNHCR is awaiting arrangements from the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) and CNRT, the umbrella organisation for East Timorese political groups, so that these 500 Timorese can go back safely. They are destined for Ailieu, the headquarters of East Timorese resistance fighters located just south of Dili. They are anxious to return and said they planned to go back on their own unless they hear soon from UNTAET and CNRT.

They said that since they have resigned from the Indonesian army, they could no longer remain in Kupang and would like to begin a new life. They said they have nothing to fear since they have not done anything wrong.

3. High Commissioner in the Balkans

Today High Commissioner Sadako Ogata is meeting with Croatia's new president Stipe Mesic and other officials. This is the High Commissioner's first trip to Croatia since the change of government which has raised hopes for an end to a prolonged deadlock on refugee returns to Croatia and other areas of the Balkans.

The High Commissioner arrived in Croatia's capital Zagreb on Thursday and went straight to villages in Western Slavonia's Pakrac area which accommodate Muslim and Croat refugees from Bosnia, as well as Croats displaced from eastern Slavonia.

Since 1995, some 65,000 Croatian Serbs have returned to their homes in Croatia. Some 35,000 have gone back from Serbia and Bosnia and around 30,000 moved back to their original homes from eastern Slavonia where they had lived as internally displaced while the region was under Serb, and later UN control. But the bulk of more than 300,000 Croatian Serbs remain refugees, primarily in Serbia and Montenegro, but also in the Republika Srpska of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

This document is intended for public information purposes only. It is not an official UN document.