Subject: Transcript: Rains and militia hamper Timor aid effort

Australian Broadcasting Corporation The World Today Thursday, October 14, 1999 12:32

Rains and militia hamper Timor aid effort

COMPERE: The first rains of the wet season have started falling on East Timor today - a blessing to some who want to see gardens of food sprouting again, but a problem for aid workers trying to get around the country on already poor and battle-damaged roads. There's an additional hazard of course today - the creeping return of militiamen, determined to make a show, challenging INTERFET troops to find them as once again they seek to intimidate villagers, coming and going in a cowardly fashion.

Well, late this morning when Dr Andrew McNaughton of Timor Aid joined me on the satellite in Dili, I asked him for a reaction to this show of bravado by Eurico Guterres and his hirelings in Liquica.

ANDREW MC NAUGHTON: I'm not that surprised. Assuming that it is correct and that they really are in the area west of Liquica, it would be what we're been expecting - that the militias, backed by the Indonesian army, would continue to sort of nag and irritate as much as possible. I think that's pretty much what everyone has expected them to do. In fact if anything, I think people are surprised that they've made less - less of a problem up to now than was expected. It was expected that they would continue to sort of try and harass or bother the INTERFET operation and the UN operation to bring humanitarian assistance here.

COMPERE: Would you put it though at any higher sinister level than just being an aggravation?

ANDREW MC NAUGHTON: I think there's - in my mind there's no doubt that some sections of the Indonesian army, particularly the Kopassus intelligence kind of group who still have ambitions to destabilise and continue a war in East Timor, it's not clear whether this is fully backed by the whole army, and whether it - this initiative could be snuffed out by international diplomatic pressure. But there are certainly some very powerful people who want to continue making major problems, and of course these kind of intrusions, if they get their way, would just be the thin end of the wedge, you know. You'd expect the problems to continue, if they're able to continue and they're not stopped by their own - by other forces that may bring a halt to this kind of activity.

COMPERE: We have had some evidence of reconciliation going on in various places though, including out in the west of East Timor there, where these militia people, largely illiterate people from villages - these young men who have no prospects of job or income, have been promised a lot by way of material goods, are now turning back and saying they want to come back and join the East Timorese in rebuilding their country.

ANDREW MC NAUGHTON: They've realised probably now that they don't have a future with the Indonesian army. The Indonesian army was simply using them for its own purposes. Maybe the penny has finally dropped - the extent to which they've been used, and they've realised they don't want to be forced to live elsewhere in Indonesia and be pariahs in their homeland, they'd like to be able to return to their homeland. They probably also realise that an independent East Timor might be better governed than it was previously and they'd like to live here. Some of them I think, if they've committed a lot of crimes, may have burnt their bridges. But to me, they were never the driving force behind this process, it was always the army, and these people were always the pawns of the Indonesian army. And that's why it doesn't really surprise us that some of them now want to come back.

COMPERE: On another matter, you've been getting out and about looking at what aid can be given and what needs to be done. The first rains have fallen of the wet season today. Is that a good or a bad thing?

ANDREW MC NAUGHTON: I think obviously the wet coming in generally would be a good thing. But it's come I would say far too early for the aid effort. There are probably some hundreds of thousands of people still up in the mountains with no shelter. The mountains are very cold, particularly if you get rained on and you get wet, and the roads are in a bad state, and a lot of food, shelter, seed and other medical care - in other words, vital humanitarian assistance - has yet to arrive to 80 or 90 per cent of the population probably. So, rain - heavy rain at this stage is a big problem in fact and may be disastrous.

COMPERE: So, what's your assessment at this stage for things? Do you believe that you are starting to win the battle to help the people, or are you still in a stalemate situation with insufficient resources?

ANDREW MC NAUGHTON: Well, a bit of both. I think a lot of progress has occurred. Significant chunks of East Timor are safe enough for humanitarian organisations to work in. INTERFET has done a reasonably good job in that respect, although some people think they may have been slower than they should have been. The humanitarian aid is getting out there, but I would say - I don't know - at a guess, 60, 70, 80 per cent of the population has not yet been touched by it. So it's a bit of both. A lot of progress has occurred. That's great. But on the other hand, particularly with the rain coming, we really are behind the 8-ball, and there's a risk that there's going to be epidemics of things like cholera and people dying from pneumonia because they'll be up in the mountains getting rained on, they'll have no shelter to go to, be insufficient food to eat, no medical care able to get to them, and people could well start dying in very large numbers if the rain sets in now.

COMPERE: Dr Andrew McNaughton of Timor Aid, speaking to me form Dili.


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