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Saturday, 4 May, 2002, 01:23 GMT 02:23 UK
E Timor refugees flood back home
East Timorese refugees
Some 55,000 refugees have yet to return

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) says that more than 6,000 East Timorese refugees returned home last month, the highest number for two years.

The agency said it saw the mass repatriation as a vote of confidence in the state's imminent independence and added that it hopes to help some 55,000 other refugees get back home within the next two weeks.

Since the beginning of its repatriation programme in October 1999, nearly 205,000 East Timorese have returned home.

President elect Xanana Gusmao is working with the UNHCR to encourage his countrymen to repatriate.

Mr Gusmao recently held mass meetings in West Timor to try to persuade refugees that if they came back to East Timor, they would come back to a country without violence.

More than a quarter of East Timor's population left the territory in 1999 after a referendum on independence turned into bloody violence as Indonesian-backed militias killed over 1,000 people in the region.

The UNHCR said it was confident that many more people would now return home, before the United Nations hands over full control of the territory on 20 May.


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