Timor-Leste: UN steps up aid to scores of thousands of people displaced by violence

31 May 2006

With violence decreasing markedly in Timor-Leste over the past 24 hours although youth gangs are still on the streets, United Nations agencies today stepped up aid for 100,000 people uprooted by weeks of turmoil aggravated by the dismissal of a third of the armed forces in the country which the UN shepherded to independence from Indonesia in 2002.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is airlifting in tents, plastic sheeting, blankets, jerry cans and cooking utensils that can help 30,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the small South-East Asian country where Australian troops have already landed at the Government’s request to help restore calm.

“There is a clear need to get people out of these overcrowded and unsanitary makeshift camps and into new sites which are designed in such a way as to protect women, children, and the elderly,” UNHCR official Gregory Garras said.

An agency assessment team arrived in the capital, Dili, today and reported that the most critical needs of the town’s estimated 65,000 IDPs – apart from security – are food, clean water and shelter. A further 35,000 people have reportedly fled to the countryside.

UNHCR has experience in the area, having repatriated more than 220,000 refugees who had fled the violence and upheaval following the 1999 UN-organized referendum on independence. It also assisted some 28,000 people who wanted to stay in Indonesia.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is distributing rice and high-energy biscuits to IDPs and local hospitals, augmenting supplies provided by the Government, the UN Office in Timor-Leste (UNOTIL) reported.

The UN Office itself is providing assistance to approximately 5,000 IDPs camped near its compound. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the UN World Health Organization (WHO) are providing hospital supplies and assisting pregnant women in the camps.

Three babies were born over the last three days in the camp opposite the UN compound. “Help has to reach these camps immediately,” UNICEF country representative Shui-Meng Ng said. “Babies are being born in these camps under conditions which are unsuitable. They and their mothers need looking after. We need to take care of the preventive health care needs of these people.”

UNICEF is also aiding the Government with technical assistance on water distribution, and WHO is providing immunization kits. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has sent in specialists to coordinate the work of the humanitarian agencies on the ground.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who has a senior envoy to Timor-Leste to help calm the situation, recorded a message to the Timorese people appealing for calm.

In the video, he called for all concerned to “act together, urgently, to prevent the situation from deteriorating further.”

He urged political leaders to join forces with religious and community leaders to end the crisis. The Timorese people “must stand up against anyone who tries to divide you on regional or ethnic lines,” he said.

For its part, the international community must “stand with Timor-Leste in the present, which is its hour of need.”

The Secretary-General urged members of the defence and security forces to “abide by their obligation to uphold the constitution and the rule of law.”

He pledged the UN’s full support at this trying juncture. The UN, he told the country’s citizens, “wills stay with you as you resume your noble task of building a united and prosperous Timorese nation.”


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