Ogata urges speedy deployment of peacekeepers in East Timor, says UNHCR ready to launch a relief operation immediately
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today called for a swift deployment of an international peace keeping force in East Timor. "We are in a race against time to help save the lives of tens of thousands, or perhaps even more, terrified people affected by weeks of wanton violence and forcible displacement," said High Commissioner Sadako Ogata.
Ogata welcomed Indonesian President B.J. Habibie's announcement last Sunday that Indonesia would allow UN peacekeepers into East Timor. "The announcement paves the way for a feasible humanitarian operation," she said. "Together with the other UN humanitarian agencies, we are ready to help the displaced people both in East and West Timor."
Ogata welcomed the appointment by the Secretary General of Ross Mountain of the UN Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs as the UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator which she said would help co-ordinate the work of the UN's operational agencies.
Ogata expressed concern about reports of forced relocation of some East Timorese to West Timor. "The practice of forcible relocation of East Timorese must cease now," she said. She also demanded that all those uprooted by the violence must be allowed to return to their homes in East Timor.
The Indonesian Government says more than 120,000 people have fled from East Timor to West Timor since East Timorese overwhelmingly voted for independence in a referendum organised by the UN. But UNHCR fears that thousands of these people have been taken to West Timor against their will.
UNHCR said it had pre-positioned emergency supplies in the region and an aircraft was on standby in Australia's Northern Territory ready to fly in relief supplies into Dili on a few hours' notice.
UNHCR officials who travelled to Dili Last Saturday with the UN Security Council Delegation said they were shocked by the extent of destruction wreaked by a two-week spree of killing, violence and plunder by anti-independence militias. They said Dili, once a bustling town of 180,000 people, now resembled a ghost town. Most of Dili's population are believed to have fled to nearby hills. Over 1,000 terrified residents of Dili have found refuge in the compound of the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET).