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Timor: UNHCR prepares to airlift emergency relief

Briefing notes

Timor: UNHCR prepares to airlift emergency relief

1 October 1999

UNHCR is preparing to airlift emergency relief aid for thousands of displaced people from East Timor living in appalling conditions in West Timor. The airlift of plastic sheeting, water containers, blankets and mats will be made from Darwin, where UNHCR has been building up supplies for both East and West Timor. A UNHCR logistics team is now in the West Timor capital of Kupang to draw up plans for the initial airlift flight expected to begin next week.

At the same time, UNHCR is drawing up plans for the repatriation of Timorese who have expressed a desire to return home to Dili. UNHCR is looking into the possibility of using airlift flights to ferry those who wish to go back to East Timor.

In visits to at least five camps in the Kupang area, UNHCR was told that most of the people there want to repatriate, reinforcing statements by local officials that up to 60 percent of the 230,000 displaced people now in West Timor want to return to East Timor.

Four of the five camps UNHCR has visited in the Kupang area are the Gor and Koni sports centres, Noel Baki and Naibonat with a combined population of about 5,300 appeared to be well organized. But at Tua Pukan most of the 30,000 people there are without shelter. There is little water and food at Tua Pukan, although some rations were distributed on Thursday by the local Red Cross. The people of Tua Pukan include dependants of militia and military and pro-independence Timorese who came from makeshift camps in the Atambua area near the border with East Timor.

A UNHCR staff member who went to Atambua on Wednesday and Thursday reported that more than 130,000 displaced are scattered in the area and that many of them are without shelter. The government is constructing barracks at Atambua town to house 6,000 people now living in 21 schools to allow students to begin classes. The staff member visited six sites. In three of these sites, people have been living in the open for weeks.

While Dili is much calmer, the security situation elsewhere in East Timor continues to be precarious. On Thursday in the town of Com, gurkha peace keeping troops escorting an inter-agency relief convoy arrested several suspected militia members and freed 3,000 East Timorese rounded up at the port for deportation.

The first general distribution of food (rice) in Dili is to take place next Monday, 4 October. The distribution of plastic sheeting, timber and other supplies will follow. It will be organized jointly by UNHCR, ICRC, and 9 NGOs.