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Sunday, 27 February, 2000, 16:46 GMT
New hope for Timor refugees

Tens of thousands fled the violence in East Timor

Talks aimed at the repatriation of thousands of East Timorese villagers who fled during last year's violence have been held between militant groups.

Two pro-independence organisations, Falintil and the National Council for East Timor Resistance and their long-time foes, the anti-independence Aitarak militia attended the landmark meeting in Singapore.

Kjell-Ake Nordquist of Sweden's Uppsala University, organiser of the talks, told AFP that the meeting had been "constructive and meaningful".

Both sides have left Singapore after agreeing to meet again soon.

army The Indonesian army backed the militias' rampage
More than 90,000 refugees have been living in camps in West Timor since fleeing the violence caused by the militias in the wake of East Timor's vote for independence from Indonesia last August.

The Indonesian Government has given the refugees until 31 March to decide whether to remain in Indonesia or return to East Timor, now administered by the United Nations.

UN Secretary-general Kofi Annan and independence leader Xanana Gusmao have both said East Timor should be home for those who fought against independence as well as for those who fought for it.

guterres Eurico Guterres: Accused of human rights offences
East Timor, formerly an Indonesian province, was plunged into violence when pro-Jakarta militias, backed by the Indonesian military, went on a rampage following the vote for independence.

Details of who attended the meeting were not being revealed, but AFP reported that the Falintil delegation was led by Taur Matan Ruak, vice commander of the Falintil guerrillas, and delegates from Aitarak included leaders Eurico Guterres and Joao Tavares.

ruak Taur Matan Ruak with Falintil pro-independence militia
Mr Guterres has been named, along with six top Indonesian generals, by a UN Human Rights Commission inquiry as responsible for the massive violence that followed East Timor's 30 August independence vote.

The meeting was also aimed at reconciliation between the two sides, but a source told AFP that the issue of amnesty was not on the table.

Indonesia's President Abdurrahman Wahid is due to visit East Timor on Tuesday and has said he wants to open a land crossing between East and West Timor, to enable not only refugee repatriations and border trade.

He has also said he intends to give the country as much assistance as possible to establish itself as an independent state.

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See also:
17 Feb 00 |  Asia-Pacific
East Timor: Long road ahead
05 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
East Timor's brave new world
17 Feb 00 |  East Timor
The trials of East Timor: Special report

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