Subject: AP: Disease Rampant in West Timor Camps

Associated Press NY-10-02-99 1305EDT

Disease Rampant in Timor Camps


KUPANG, Indonesia (AP) - In the ramshackle Tuapukan camp, home to 10,000 refugees from East Timor's chaos, Indonesia's red-and-white flag flies proudly above unfinished roofs of dried palm fronds and straw.

The show of support for Jakarta is expected in a camp that is home to families of pro-Indonesia militias and low-ranking Indonesian troops. What is surprising are the horrendous, overcrowded conditions that even they are forced to tolerate.

Some 230,000 East Timorese, most believed to be independence supporters intimidated by rampaging militias, are living in scattered encampments across West Timor. Many say they were forcibly taken after a landslide vote to separate from Indonesia.

Access to their camps is severely limited, even for international air workers trying to help them. Outbreaks of malaria and measles are on the rise, and health officials fear the situation will only worsen with the onset of the monsoon season next month.

In Tuapukan, hundreds of refugees squat under leaves or plastic tarps hastily thrown up along a traffic-clogged dirt road. Cooking tables and open latrines are side by side. There is no water. Black exhaust from passing trucks hangs in the air.

Dr. Hendra Wajaya, who works inside the camps, estimated Saturday that up to half the children in Tuapukan are suffering from diarrhea, which already has proved fatal there. Tuberculosis is another concern.

Local health officials say a lack of sanitation is speeding the spread of disease through Tuapukan, located nine miles east of Kupang, the West Timor capital. One nurse expressed concern for 10 newborns, who were delivered healthy but are now at serious risk of infection.

Dr. Mappi Gaspar, field director of Doctors Without Borders, said her staff members had gained access to several camps and were trying to improve sanitation conditions.

Indonesian troops and militia rule this section of countryside where four camps, home to roughly 40,000 people, run one after another for miles outside the city.

Scattered blue or orange tents pepper a browned landscape thirsty for water, but most people live under crude huts.

It was unclear whether those in Tuapukan came to West Timor freely or were forced. Indonesian officials in Kupang said Saturday that safety concerns made it impossible for foreigners to enter the camp.

Refugees in other camps said they were told three weeks ago to board Indonesian military planes for West Timor or be killed.

In Asumta camp, worn out mothers breast-fed their babies, shoeless children stared at the brown earth and swarms of black flies buzzed in the air.

A few men quietly inquired into the whereabouts of the militia, telling aid workers stories of torture back in East Timor.

Fermina Sanchez hugged her 6-month-old son close to her chest as she stood on the steps of a church complex where she is staying.

``My husband stayed behind in Dili,'' she said. Looking downward at her five other children gathering around her skirt, she added, ``We need to go home.''

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