Timor-Leste

Refugee flow slows from west to East Timor

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The number of refugees returning to East Timor from West Timor has slowed to a few hundred a day at some border crossings in comparison to the thousands crossing daily in recent months.

At Salelei near the East Timorese town of Suai, a few New Zealand soldiers spend their days watching Indonesian troops manning a sandbagged gunpoint barely 40 metres across a bridge.

It was not long ago that they were also watching thousands of refugees cross the border point each day, but no more.

Now the flow has been reduced to a trickle. Christmas and New Year celebrations have slowed things down as has the Muslim observance of Ramadan.

But UNHCR officers on the border also cite other reasons. Some refugees are taking advantage of the better economic circumstances in West Timor.

They have planted crops and enrolled their children in schools.

Others were members of militia and Indonesian military families, and fear retribution at home.

=A9 1999 Australian Broadcasting Corporation

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