Interfet's resource problem
Australian Broadcasting Corporation The World Today Friday, October 15, 1999 12:39
Interfet's resource problem
COMPERE: There's evidence today that militia groups are carefully skirting around Interfet patrols in East Timor to propagandise their boast that they'll wage a guerilla war from the sanctuaries in Indonesian Timor across the border. Major General Peter Cosgrove has been forced to back off yesterday's adamant statement from him that he didn't believe TV pictures showing that the much feared Aitarak militia led by Eurico Guterres had come back to Liquica, just a few kilometres from the capital. Army intelligence though it seems was wrong on that count. The incident highlights a major resource problem. Three weeks after the arrival of Interfet, people are still not confident enough to return from their hiding places to many towns and hamlets. In the central highlands town of Ainaro, only 2,000 remain, where in the past it was a thriving centre of 20,000.
This morning our correspondent Rafael Epstein called me on the satellite phone when he arrived in the with a Red Cross aid team.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: It is eerily quite. You can feel very much that this used to be a major town. There's a big hospital here that has been trashed. There is a church that has survived. But this is a big place, and there is basically no-one here. Only about 20 people ran out to meet the aid helicopter that I came on. They've brought some rice and some water, some cooking fuel. But there doesn't seem to be that many people here to give those supplies to, and Interfet doesn't have a permanent presence here, which suggests the people still don't feel it's safe to come back to the towns.
COMPERE: But Interfet has visited the zone several times, I believe.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Interfet has come through here twice, we're told by the locals. But this is the problem that's repeated all over the region. Interfet can come through, establish that there may not be any - any dangerous people in the area, and move on. But you still have a problem that the aid - there isn't enough resources within Interfet to bring consistent aid convoys to towns like this. The ICRC that I came with today are limited to using helicopters, and the people obviously don't feel that it's safe. They say the need food, they say they need fuel, they need other things. But all the reports they're getting from the people hiding in the hills are the people don't feel that it's safe enough for them to come back down.
COMPERE: So, it's that security which is paramount to them. And as we've seen in Liquica, it is possible for militia to creep back in, even if it's only for a short time.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Yes. That appears to be what happened the other day. Eurico Guterres and his Aitarak militiamen - 150 of them. Obviously very deliberately done for the agency camera. The cameraman who took those shots had developed a relationships with these people. He was taken from West Timor into East Timor. They were filmed parading around. And Interfet now agree that there were some militiamen very close to Liquica. That's only an hour's drive from Dili. So that's an admission that even though there are more than 6,000 international troops here, they can't stop the militia coming over the border all the time.
COMPERE: And that is the problem for the people in Ainaro where you are - they just don't trust the fact that Interfet doesn't have a permanent presence there.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Absolutely. The people here in the town don't say to us that there has been recent militia activity. Some of the aid groups have some second-hand reports that there were some militia here up to a week ago. No-one knows. And that's why no-one feels safe to return. And that's why, while there might be some people here digging the odd field or rebuilding the odd house - and there are some children running around and actually watching me make this call - there are very, very few people here, and it's something that's repeated in a pattern throughout East Timor.
COMPERE: Rafael Epstein speaking to us from the Central Highlands of East Timor - the town Ainaro.
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