Timor Emergency Update
On Thursday an inter-agency convoy travelled to the towns of Ermera and Gleno 60 kms south-west of Dili where aid workers, including two UNHCR staff, and troops from their Interfet escort found 90% of the towns destroyed.
From an original population of around 31,000 an estimated 500 people have returned to Ermera and Gleno. Most of these came back 10 days ago after seeing the first international peacekeepers enter the towns. The bulk of the population is reportedly still living in the forest near Fatubala, a Falintil base. Many residents were deported to West Timor but nobody UNHCR spoke with could give a reliable estimate. People in Ermera said 20 civilians were killed by anti-independence militia during the violence.
Aid workers found three cases of severe malnutrition among those who have returned to Ermera and Gleno. Like other displaced people, the group said they survived mainly on cassava and sweet potatoes. They were able to find adequate drinking water.
The humanitarian convoy delivered 12 tons of rice, 18 bales of plastic sheeting and boxes of baby food.
An initial survey of the destruction in Ermera and Gleno showed that the water systems will have to be repaired and large quantities of material for shelter repairs supplied. As in Liquica town, where yesterday U.N. staff on an inter-agency mission found approximately 75% of all houses completely destroyed, there is an urgent need for shelter material before the onset of heavy rains. The mission concluded that 25% of those damaged could be rebuilt with corrugated iron sheets but that the rest would need more significant work.
UNHCR also sent relief aid today to Baucau. The road connecting Dili and Baucau is now considered secure by Interfet and humanitarian vehicles may travel it without escort as long as there are at least three vehicles in the convoy and they maintain radio contact.
After further talks to iron out practical arrangements for an airlift return to East Timor, the UNHCR team in Kupang is satisfied that the first flight can go ahead as planned tomorrow, 8 October.
Provincial authorities will have full responsibility for maintaining security throughout the operation. East Timorese candidates for repatriation will be identified, transported within West Timor, and then by air to Dili, by UNHCR. Staff from UNHCR's Kupang office will also manage passenger lists.
The arrangements are being confirmed to the governor of West Timor in a letter today, Thursday, and the Transall 130 aircraft chartered for the first return flights is due to arrive in Kupang Friday, 8 October.
UNHCR met this week in the West Timor capital with Harold Koh, the U.S. Under-Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Discussions with the US delegation, which conducted visits to sites of displaced East Timorese, centered on the complexities facing aid agencies operating in West Timor.