Subject: East Timor faces a new enemy -- rain

East Timor faces a new enemy -- rain

By Andrew Marshall

DILI, East Timor, Oct 21 (Reuters) - A new enemy arrived in the shattered East Timorese capital of Dili on Thursday -- rain.

A heavy downpour soaked the city in mid-afternoon, sending locals scattering for cover and heralding the start of the rainy season that is expected to last for the next few months.

In the past, the onset of the rains after months of baking heat was a time of celebration in East Timor.

No longer.

With many of East Timor's towns and villages reduced to charred ruins in the violence that swept the former Portuguese colony last month, the rain will add to the misery of tens of thousands living in makeshift shelters or holed up in the mountains where they fled last month.

The onset of the rainy season makes humanitarian efforts in East Timor more urgent, and at the same time more difficult.

Roads are expected to become increasingly impassable, a serious problem for the aid agencies struggling to distribute food and shelter, and for the INTERFET multinational force striving to restore order in East Timor after the violence that followed its overwhelming vote for independence in August.

``With the rainy season it will become harder to transport by road and this has made our task more urgent,'' said Jaques Franquin, spokesman for the UNHCR in East Timor.

He said the UNHCR had been hard at work pre-positioning supplies in key locations ahead of the rainy season.


Around 250,000 people fled or were forcibly deported last month to West Timor, where many of them are staying in refugee camps, some controlled by the pro-Jakarta militia who along with Indonesia's military were responsible for last month's violence.

The UNHCR estimates around 150,000 want to return, and many are expected to come over the border on foot.

The long trek across the border was arduous during the hot season -- a baby and an elderly man died during the influx of refugees in the town of Memo earlier this week.

In the rainy season, with the terrain waterlogged and roads deteriorating, it will be harder still.

Many refugees will be returning to detroyed towns and villages -- the border town of Maliana, where most refugees are expected to converge, has been almost totally razed. The need to provide shelter is urgent.

For the U.N.-backed INTERFET force, the rain will make patrolling more difficult. Chief of staff Colonel Mark Kelly says teams of military engineers have been working to improve roads ahead of the start of the rains.

For investigators probing alleged atrocities in the violence, the rain also presents a problem. The U.N. is already facing criticism that evidence is deteriorating due to delays in sending investigation teams. Now that the rainy season has begun, the deterioration will accelerate.

04:31 10-21-99

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