Subject: Conditions in W Timor refugee camps deteriorating: UNHCR

Conditions in West Timor refugee camps deteriorating: UNHCR

GENEVA, Dec 3 (AFP) - Conditions in refugee camps in West Timor are deteriorating with provincial authorities reporting that at least 35 people, mostly children, died in one camp over a ten-day period, the UN refugee agency said here Friday.

Some 32 of the victims were children under the age of five.

The East Timorese refugees died from various ailments, but primarily diarrhea and malaria between November 22 and December 1, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond said.

The people were staying at the Tua Pukan camp outside the West Timor capital of Kupang, he said. Tens of thousands of East Timorese fled the territory to escape violence by militias after an overwhelming vote for independence at the end of August.

"We've only had very, very limited access because of the intimidation in the camps. For example, in Tua Pukan, the water and sanitation conditions, according to our staff, are sorely inadequate," Redmond told reporters.

Ground water sources in camps were contaminated, latrines either did not work or were poorly maintained and water delivered to the site was reportedly untreated, he said.

Previously authorities said 140 people died at Tua Pukan over a three-month period.

Redmond said the repatriation programme for East Timorese returnees had reached "a critical stage" and there had been a sharp drop in the number of people returning.

Preliminary figures for Friday showed around 250 people joined convoys organised by the UNHCR and International Organisation for Migrationacross three repatriation corridors in East Timor -- the lowest number since the programme began early October.

IOM spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy said among people in East Timor, there was growing tension between those returning from West Timor and those who stayed in the territory but fled to the mountains.

People arriving back in East Timor with assets had provoked, in some cases, resentment from those who had stayed and lost all their possessions, Chauzy said.

UNHCR and IOM said the onset of the rainy season had also made it difficult to reach people in remote camps.

And systematic intimidation continued in West Timor, Redmond said, adding that militias in the border Atambua region have threatened to take hostages from families going back.

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