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Timor Emergency Update

Timor Emergency Update

4 October 1999

West Timor

A first UNHCR aircraft loaded with 17 metric tons of emergency aid for displaced populations in West Timor set down today in Kupang. The chartered Antonov carried plastic sheeting, jerry cans, water tanks and medical kits from stocks in Darwin, Australia.

Another flight will follow on Tuesday. UNHCR plans to operate a total of five or six flights to West Timor.

The supplies will go to the makeshift camps in the Kupang and Atambua areas and will benefit both those who wish to return to East Timor and those who want to stay.

On Sunday, 3 October, UNHCR announced that it is ready to start repatriating displaced East Timorese from West to East Timor. High Commissioner Sadako Ogata welcomed news that West Timor's Governor had told East Timorese at a camp in Kupang that anyone who wishes to go home will be allowed to do so.

"If the returns actually happen it will bring an end to the ordeal of thousands of miserable people, many of whom have been taken to West Timor against their will," Ogata said.

UNHCR is preparing to airlift the first refugees back to East Timor this Wednesday, 6 October. Chartered aircraft will be used for the transfers until security conditions on roads linking the two parts of the island allow overland convoys. Returns by sea are also under consideration.

The first volunteers for return will come from sites in the Kupang area and will first go to Dili. UNHCR staff in Kupang are telling the refugees about current conditions in East Timor as well as their option to stay temporarily in transit centres in Dili before UNHCR arranges their move home.

East Timor

People continue to move back to towns secured by Interfet. Besides Dili, the towns of Dare, Liquisa, Baucau, Manatuto, Los Palos, and Com are now patrolled by the international peacekeepers. No gunfire or arson has been reported in these areas during the past three days.

Despite Interfet having gained full control of the northern part of East Timor, aid workers estimate that less than 100,000 Timorese are present in these villages and towns, and that several times that number may still be hiding in hills, still fearful of anti-independence militia.

Humanitarian assistance has now reached Dare, Manatuto, Los Palos and Baucau, and UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies will establish a permanent presence in Baucau in the next few days. Besides delivering emergency supplies to new destinations aid workers are trying to restart basic services like water supply and sanitation.

In Dili, UNHCR is working to set up transit facilities and arrange onward transport for Timorese who will be repatriating from Kupang. They will have the option of staying temporarily at the town's stadium before moving on to areas which peace-keepers have secured.

Each of the returnees will receive a blanket, soap, jerry can and a bag of rice, and each family will get a plastic sheet for temporary shelter. UNHCR has also begun an assessment of the destruction to homes in order eventually to distribute more substantial building material.

So far UNHCR has delivered more than 9,000 jerry cans, 10,500 blankets and 4,000 plastic sheets and 39 large rolls of plastic to Dili. A further 1,000 jerry cans, 86 plastic rolls, 8,000 blankets, 6,000 plastic sheets, and eleven 800-litre water tanks are in the pipeline and will arrive in Dili in the next few days. UNHCR has also shipped 38 metric tons of rice and this weekend took delivery of two temporary warehouses which will provide 1,000 metric tons of badly needed storage space.

Transport within East Timor is still one of the aid agencies' biggest concerns. The number of serviceable trucks is insufficient for a growing delivery area while the return of refugees will only increase demand.

Tomorrow, 5 October, ICRC, the U.N. agencies and all NGOs operating in Dili are planning a general distribution of rice in the capital. Each resident will receive a 50 kilogramme bag of rice at any one of six locations around town.

Health facilities are also now functioning normally in Dili. The public hospital in the capital has been re-opened and is staffed by ICRC. The hospital building in Baucau is largely intact and will be operational in a few days. And other clinics and health centres are working again under the supervision of UNICEF and NGOs.