17 June 2009 AFP DILI - East Timor began emptying its last remaining camp for thousands of internally displaced people Wednesday, more than three years after unrest drove an estimated 100,000 people from their homes.
Aid workers started dismantling the Metinaro camp on the outskirts of the capital after more than 700 families agreed to accept money in return for going home, officials said.
The camp, once home to in excess of 9,000 people, is one of 65 camps built to hold people displaced by political turmoil in 2006 that left 37 people dead in fighting among police, soldiers and street gangs.
"This is the culmination of a long process of work done by the government, all the organisations involved and the people since 2007 to find a solution to problems that were a result of the 2006 crisis," International Organisation for Migration camp coordinator Brad Mellicker said.
"This is an important step on the road to development," he said.
The families of internally displaced persons (IDPs) were entitled to payments of as much as 4,500 dollars to help them settle in and rebuild homes.
"Within slightly more than one year, working together, we will have managed to close all 65 IDP camps," Social Solidarity Minister Maria Alves said earlier in the week.
The return of many of East Timor's displaced people has been delayed by land disputes and fears of violence in home villages.
East Timor, one of the world's poorest countries, gained formal independence in 2002 after a 1999 UN-backed referendum that ended a brutal 24-year military occupation by neighbour Indonesia.