Subject: Aid agencies warn of Timor 'starvation on massive scale'
Date: Tue, 7 Sep 1999 12:52:29 EDT

also: 'Vote again or we burn everything'

Sydney Morning Herald Wednesday, September 8, 1999

Aid agencies warn of mass starvation


The head of Caritas, the biggest aid agency in East Timor, predicted there would be "starvation on a massive scale" unless some sort of stability was restored immediately.

All major aid agencies, including Caritas, the Red Cross and CARE Australia, have evacuated their staff and will not return until they can guarantee staff safety.

Mr Tom Story, the director of Caritas, said yesterday his agency could have food and medical supplies into Dili within 24 hours, but until peace was restored there was no way it could be distributed to people in rural areas.

It is estimated there are more than 150,000 internal refugees, many of whom would now have little or no food and, within the week, would be starving, aid workers say.

"We are facing a horrible situation and all we can do is sit and watch while things deteriorate," Mr Story said.

He said the problem for his agency, when it went back, was that much of its infrastructure had been destroyed by the militia.

He had no idea what had happened to the Timorese Caritas staff and feared many had been killed.

"Dili is a ghost town, so for any humanitarian effort to work, we need to be able to get out into the country with some sort of security," Mr Story said.

Mr Robert Yallop, from CARE Australia, said his organisation and AusAid met yesterday to plan for humanitarian aid to be sent to West Timor to feed the expected flood of refugees over the border.

Mr Yallop said that until order was restored in East Timor, CARE Australia would concentrate its efforts on the border.

Mr Vedran Drakulic, from the Australian Red Cross, said moves were made yesterday to set up first-aid tents along the West Timor border and that in the next few days, facilities would be in place for families to trace missing family members.

"We also have stocks of war surgery supplies on standby in Jakarta, Australia and in Geneva," Mr Drakulic said.

"From what we have heard, there have been some horrible injuries and we will need to get in to treat them as soon as possible, but unfortunately that is not happening."

Food assistance was also on its way to the border, Mr Drakulic said.

The aid organisations evacuated their staff on Monday, saying they were no longer prepared to put their lives at risk.

The RAAF flew five Caritas and two CARE workers to Darwin from Dili after CARE evacuated its 71 Timorese and Indonesian workers, most of them by bus to West Timor.

Mr Yallop said then: "The risk to the lives of our staff has become too great. We will not return until their security and safety can be guaranteed."

Since the staff were evacuated the situation has only deteriorated.

Mr Story, from Caritas, said the Catholic Church had 26 medical clinics in East Timor which were the backbone of the provincial medical system.

Most are believed to have been destroyed.

Sydney Morning Herald Wednesday, September 8, 1999

'Vote again or we burn everything'

Kupang, West Timor: A commander of the militias in East Timor said yesterday that his men were ready to "burn everything" if the territory's independence vote was not held again.

Speaking in Kupang, the capital of Indonesian West Timor, Herminio da Silva da Costa told Agence France-Presse: "[If] the international community does not review the [vote] process, we are ready to destroy everything."

Meanwhile, the militias attacked foreign journalists, photographers and a United Nations observer at a refugee camp in Kupang. Photographers were kicked and punched and vehicles stoned.

"Some [refugees] have gone into hiding," one aid worker said. "They are afraid because militiamen with machetes have been seen during the past couple of days".

Yesterday an Indonesian Hercules aircraft brought more refugees into Kupang, with officials putting the total here now at more than 5,000.

On at least two occasions during the day, foreign media were driven away from a camp at the Neolbaki bus terminal on the outskirts of Kupang by militia members who threw punches and stones. The intervention of local police prevented any serious injuries. UN refugee officials have arrived in Kupang to help deal with the flood of people across the border. However, some foreign non-government aid workers have been attacked.

- Craig Skehan

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