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Timor Emergency Update

Timor Emergency Update

27 September 1999

East Timor

East Timor's capital Dili has been slowly returning to normal with more street activity and more people trickling back to the city from the surrounding hills, as Australian peacekeepers have strengthened their grip on the security situation. Many people come to the city during the day but return to the hills at night - still too fearful to remain in Dili after dark.

There are reports of the security being far worse outside the capital, with pro-Indonesian checkpoints still operating approximately 10-15 kms from Dili. The Indonesian troops reportedly torched buildings in Dili and some villages to the west as they continued their withdrawal over the weekend. U.N. staff who have taken part in reconnaissance helicopter flights speak of severe damage to a number of East Timor's towns. The sea port of Suai, some 150 kms south-west of Dili, is reported to be 95 percent destroyed.

UNHCR staff in Dili over the weekend brought down from the hills 12 people with injuries dating back a few weeks. They were taken to the field hospital run by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The hospital is working at full capacity. The surgeons operated on 54 cases on Friday alone - the first day they performed surgery.

Some 700 people, whose forcible deportation to West Timor had been prevented with the help of the Australian peacekeepers last week, are housed in four sites in Dili - the stadium, the cathedral, the school and the port - all four protected by the U.N. peacekeeping troops.

The aid operation, meanwhile, is gathering momentum. Three aid flights arrived in Dili over the weekend bringing in UNHCR plastic sheeting, jerry cans, blankets and other relief supplies. On Saturday a barge carrying 150 tons of supplies from several aid agencies arrived at Dili harbour. UNHCR staff have been distributing aid in Dili and the immediate surroundings - primarily plastic sheeting and jerry cans. It is estimated that 8 tons of aid have been handed out so far. A very limited trucking capacity, the lack of safe warehousing and a shortage of staff continue to hamper the relief operation. UNHCR's staff in Dili is expected to almost triple this week, reaching 9 persons by next Friday.

On Saturday UNHCR staff in Dili moved out of the Australian consulate compound to a school across the street from the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) compound. UNHCR has hired ten workers to clean up the compound which had been looted by the militias earlier this month.

West Timor

On Saturday a four person strong UNHCR emergency team, accompanied by officials from other UN agencies and the Indonesian Welfare Ministry, arrived in West Timor's capital Kupang on an assessment mission. UNHCR staff report Kupang was calm over the weekend with no visible militia activity in the city. However, UNHCR's scheduled appointment with the governor of West Timor on Monday was cancelled by his office.

During a visit to Indonesia earlier this month, High Commissioner Sadako Ogata received assurances from top Indonesian civilian and military leaders that UNHCR would be given unimpeded access to all displaced people in West Timor. The current assessment mission is seen as the test of these assurances on the ground.

The Indonesian government estimates that more than 200,000 East Timorese have fled to West Timor - with some 100,000 believed to be massed in the vicinity of the border town of Atambua in difficult conditions. UNHCR has received persistent reports about some of the camps housing people displaced from East Timor being run by anti-independence militias who intimidate East Timorese, keeping them in West Timor against their will. UNHCR's access to these people is vital to give them some protection and to ensure that those who wish to go back to their homes in East Timor are allowed to do so.