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UNHCR Briefing Notes: Guinea/Liberia, Chechnya, Timor

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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. Guinea

UNHCR welcomes the decision last Thursday by the Liberian government to reopen its border with Guinea, after a six-month closure. The move will allow UNHCR to resume the stalled repatriation of some 130,000 Liberians living in Guinea's Nzérékoré and Macenta regions.

During the first months of last year, more than 30,000 Liberian refugees had registered to return home, but UNHCR could only bring back 6,700 before the Liberian authorities closed the border last August, citing security reasons.

Despite the closure, Liberian refugees living in the camps of Nzérékoré and Forecariah kept registering for repatriation, in an indication that a large number of Liberian refugees in Guinea wish to go back.

2. Chechnya

In a continued exodus from Chechnya, more than 450 people have fled rebel-controlled mountainous areas south of the capital Grozny since last Friday, as Russia's military push has shifted from Grozny to the south. Altogether more than 3,000 people arrived in Ingushetia since Friday but the remaining 2,500 were believed to be people who have come back to Ingushetia after a brief scouting visit to other areas in Chechnya. During the same time, some 1,400 people have crossed from Ingushetia back to Chechnya but it is not clear how many have gone to stay. An estimated 180,000 people displaced from Chechnya remain in Ingushetia. Russia, meanwhile, has declared whatever is left of Grozny closed to potential returnees until the end of February, to allow some time to remove unexploded ordnance and clean up.

On Tuesday the 31st UNHCR convoy arrived in Ingushetia's capital Nazran with 17 trucks of mattresses, winter clothing, shoes and cooking oil.

3. Timor

There have been at least two security incidents in West Timor in the last four days. On Friday, militias stoned UNHCR staff in a car at a settlement for East Timorese refugees at Fatukmetan in West Timor's Atambua area while they were conducting a mass information program for potential returnees. On Monday, Indonesian police escorts poked a rifle at an aid worker and fired guns in the air, demanding to stop the convoy so the five policemen could eat lunch. UNHCR staff called the Indonesian army and the police were sent back and the convoy proceeded to the border town of Batugade in East Timor. There were no injuries in the two incidents. We have expressed our concern to Indonesian authorities about the upsurge of security incidents in the last four weeks in West Timor, which have disrupted on several occasions our efforts to repatriate the more than 100,000 East Timorese still in the Indonesian province. Close to 140,000 refugees have returned since the repatriation program began in October, but since mid-December the flow of returnees has slowed considerably despite our mass information efforts because of the presence of militias.

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