Subject: RT: ANALYSIS-East Timor faces death before birth
Date: Fri, 12 Mar 1999 18:30:50 -0500
From: "John M. Miller" <>

ANALYSIS-East Timor faces death before birth 08:01 p.m Mar 10, 1999 Eastern

By Andrew Marshall

DILI, East Timor, March 11 (Reuters) - Even before it has been born as an independent country, East Timor faces a lingering death as a viable state.

Strangled by a shortage of food and essential medicines, and bled by an exodus of Indonesian doctors, teachers, administrators and traders, the impoverished territory of 800,000 is suffering a growing humanitarian crisis.

``The immediate problem is access to food. That's a major issue,'' said Patrice Charpentier, project coordinator for CARE International in East Timor.

``But there are other problems that are more chronic. Shopowners are reducing their inventories. People are losing their jobs. Doctors and teachers are going away. The general uncertainty is stopping the economy functioning.''

In Dili's markets, the price of rice is up to 5,500 rupiah (60 U.S. cents) per kg, more than three times last year's prices.

Pro-independence activists say rice is being deliberately withheld. Local government officials say the shortage has been caused by distribution problems and more is on the way.

``East Timor has always been a subsistence economy, but there should be enough food,'' Charpentier said.

Nobel laureate resistance leader Jose Ramos-Horta said this week Indonesia was trying to starve the province and there would be a ``humanitarian catastrophe'' unless action was taken.

Charpentier says that if rice from state commodity regulator Bulog arrives next week, the situation will ease.

But in the interior, fresh problems are brewing. Thousands have fled villages accusing pro-Indonesia paramilitaries of intimidation. Many who returned found their livestock missing.

``People here own one pig, one goat,'' Charpentier said. ``If they lose one, it's not a big loss on paper, but it's a huge loss for them.''

Dan Murphy is the only Western doctor working in Dili and one of the few doctors left in East Timor's capital.

``The healthcare system is in a state of collapse,'' he said at his clinic, run by Carmelite nuns.

``The East Timorese have just been abandoned. People are not dying here from old age. They are dying from treatable causes.''

He estimates 50 to 100 people die every day in East Timor from preventable diseases.

Dili's main state-run hospital now opens only from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Many of its Indonesian doctors have fled. There are no surgeons left, and many of the wards are empty.

One patient is left in the intensive care ward, an elderly man lying unconscious among empty beds. Security guards check on him from time to time.

``We have treated people with gunshot wounds, stab wounds, blunt trauma from beatings,'' Murphy said. ``But we are also seeing more typhoid, cholera. Tuberculosis is endemic.''

Murphy says more foreign doctors are willing to help, but have been blocked by bureaucracy. He says the same problem is strangling medical supplies -- medicines donated from abroad have been caught up in customs in Jakarta and never arrived.

Some Indonesian doctors remain in East Timor, along with Timorese doctors and a handful of foreign volunteers.

But most Indonesian doctors -- the backbone of the healthcare system -- have left, fleeing the mounting uncertainty. Most Indonesian teachers also want to go.

When the ferry Dobonsolo steamed into Dili this week it was met by hundreds hauling crates and suitcases, jostling to get through the barbed wire barricades erected by Indonesia's Brimob anti-riot police. Armed officers supervised the boarding.

After Indonesia annexed the former Portuguese colony in 1976, thousands of migrants from Indonesia poured in.

Now Indonesian President B.J. Habibie has said East Timor can have independence if it rejects an autonomy offer Indonesia is putting together. Armed pro-Indonesia militias have vowed to fight independence. Dozens have died in clashes between rival groups.

``There is nothing here now, no business, nobody knows what will happen,'' said Frenky, a shopkeeper, waiting to board the ferry to return to the island of Sulawesi. He had been 10 years in Dili.

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