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Timor Emergency Update

Timor Emergency Update

12 October 1999

West Timor

A total of 280 returnees flew back today, Tuesday, from Kupang in West Timor to Dili in East Timor. The first flight carried 93 people, the second 97 and the third 90. Since last Friday, 8 October, the UNHCR-chartered Transall aircraft has repatriated 940 returnees in 10 flights.

As word of the returns spread in West Timor's makeshift camps, hundreds of displaced Timorese are showing up at the Assumption Church in Kupang, the site UNHCR is clearing first. Staff hope to begin moving out people from the Gor and Koni camps in Kupang in two or three days. East Timorese have also been making the seven-hour trip to Kupang from Atambua aboard public buses.

UNHCR is chartering a second Transall C160 to increase the pace of the returns. This aircraft should be in use by the end of the week. On Tuesday, the Vice-Governor of West Timor told staff in Dili that he will help UNHCR negotiate the use of a commercial ferry, which the office also hopes to have operational in the coming days.

Monday, 11 October, UNHCR opened an office in the border town of Atambua. Staff are looking into the possibility of returns from the east of West Timor by land and sea, but will first organize an airlift repatriation like the Kupang operation.

East Timor

An inter-agency convoy travelled yesterday to the town of Manatuto, 53 kms east of Dili. Staff from OCHA, UNAMET, AICF and UNHCR found that most of Manatuto's 12,000 inhabitants had not yet reentered the town.

A few residents present during the mission's visit told UNHCR that most of the population had fled to Cairuri, a village in the more mountainous part of the district. They said that others were forced to go to Atambua and Kupang in West Timor. Some of those who had fled to Cairuri had since returned to the outskirts of Manatuto, but were waiting for international troops to establish a presence in town before they went back to their homes.

The mission estimated that approximately 90% of the houses in Manatuto were burned or destroyed. Almost half are thought to be too badly damaged to be repaired. UNHCR took 1,000 plastic sheetings to Manatuto. They will be distributed by local officials and the church.

UNHCR then continued to Cairuri and found very few people there. On the return trip, they brought back 31 displaced persons who wanted to return to Manatuto.

In Dili, the UNHCR team has begun work to increase reception facilities in order to accommodate a projected 35,000 to 50,000 returnees to Dili and Baucau. Staff are also planning to set up similar facilities in other parts of East Timor in preparation for a possible large-scale return by road.

UNHCR, OCHA, ICRC, Oxfam, UNICEF and WFP are proposing to put way stations along main routes in the western areas of East Timor, which could distribute water and high-protein biscuits. No camps would be established. Aid agencies would patrol roads to help and collect weak or elderly returnees, while Interfet troops would provide security for the humanitarian operation and could evacuate by air from remote areas anyone requiring urgent medical assistance.