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Timor Emergency Update

Timor Emergency Update

30 September 1999

East Timor

UNHCR staff in East Timor's capital on Thursday estimated that 70,000 residents have returned to the city so far. Humanitarian workers in Dili are working urgently to provide people coming down from the hills with basic services. Another 30,000 are expected to reach Dili in the coming days.

Returning inhabitants continue to search for missing relatives and neighbours. At the stadium in Dili, one of the city's safe areas where people can receive aid before they are able to return to their homes, UNHCR has completed a preliminary registration of separated families. The 500 people staying in the stadium named 1,335 people, representing 176 families, who they had not been able to locate since the violence began earlier this month.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has set up a centre in Dili which will register and make available information from Timorese seeking family members and friends.

Yesterday, UNHCR transferred the people grouped in the port to another safe area in Dili. However, most of the people were able to move directly to their homes and opted to do so rather than continue to stay in temporary safe centres. Staff report that by the end of the day Wednesday, the majority of the approximately 700 displaced had returned to their houses.

On Wednesday another international NGO arrived in Dili, bringing the total of those operating in East Timor to 12. Coordination meetings are held daily, chaired by the Office of the Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs, which acts as the umbrella organization for the relief effort.

Elsewhere in East Timor, the security situation remains perilous. Thursday a UNHCR staff member joined a UNAMET aerial assessment mission which overflew western portions of East Timor. They reported seeing many houses burning in the towns of Maliana and Ermera. The mission was able to see what appeared to be elements of the feared anti-independence militia actually setting fire to buildings as they passed over the area. On return to Dili, the UNHCR staff member estimated that the level of devastation in the western area is worse than in the capital.

Thursday, efforts were concentrated on moving recently-arrived relief items from Dili's airport to the CARE/Worldvision warehouses. The buildings constitute almost all the secure storage space available in the capital, and most of the UN agencies and 12 NGOs now operational in East Timor are currently using the common premises.

A barge is expected Friday from Darwin carrying relief items, five UNHCR all-terrain vehicles and two temporary warehouses. The structures, which measure 24 x 12 metres and can be set up in a day, will provide a combined 1,000 metric tons of desperately needed storage space.

Distribution of UNHCR blankets and sheeting continues around Dili. Staff from other UN agencies and NGOs are also making deliveries of the material in the capital, and trucks are sent to Dare on a daily basis for the displaced people on the outskirts of the town.

West Timor

There are 136,000 displaced East Timorese in the Atambua area according to a joint mission by a UNHCR staff member and Indonesian Government officials. Most of the displaced are in seven large sites and the town of Atambua itself, where 37,000 East Timorese have grouped. The mission also found smaller groups in 21 schools and 13 minor sites.

The UNHCR representative on the mission reporting seeing a number of armed men in the camps visited. Militia members from East Timor have also reportedly opened an office in the town of Atambua.

Other members of UNHCR's team in West Timor Thursday visited five camps of displaced in the Kupang area.

The first, Gor stadium, was visited also Wednesday under police escort. During a longer visit 24 hours later, staff learned that the actual population of the stadium was closer to 2,000 displaced than the 1,000 reported earlier. East Timorese at Gor told UNHCR that the day before a man had been beaten after he was seen talking to a journalist.

At nearby Koni stadium, approximately 1,000 displaced people also have adequate latrines and food. At both sites however, there is an area reserved for militia and the population says they are consistently harassed. During a food distribution at Koni Wednesday, the displaced were given different coloured cards according to whether they said wanted to return to East Timor or not. No explanation was given for the move, but the East Timorese fear that those who express a desire to go back will get smaller rations.

Staff also travelled to Tua Pukan and a compound 30 kms from Kupang, Naibonat. The first site is a large open area where conditions are completely inadequate and many individuals have only palm-frond huts for shelter. There are around 30,000 people at Tua Pukan, including many Indonesians who left Dili as INTERFET troops arrived. Displaced there complained to UNHCR of shortages of drinking water and food.

At Naibonat, East Timorese number around 300 and said they are subject to harassment. Two nights ago a severed human limb was thrown into the compound.