Refugees run out of food after UN staff flee Timor

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The Independent Online

The United Nations warned yesterday that thousands of refugees left helpless in West Timor by the departure of foreign aid workers were running out of food.

The United Nations warned yesterday that thousands of refugees left helpless in West Timor by the departure of foreign aid workers were running out of food.

"The conditions are getting worse and worse," Jake Morland, of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said from Denpasar on Bali, where he was moved for safety after pro-Jakarta militias killed three UNHCR workers. "They are running out of food. We gave the last food supplies to them last month so if the [Indonesian] government does not accept the moral responsibility to take over the situation, we will see a security meltdown."

More than 120,000 East Timorese refugees remain in camps in Indonesian West Timor, where they were herded by the militias who razed East Timor after it voted in August 1999 to end Indonesian military rule.

A spokesman for groups opposing East Timorese independence warned that the food shortage would ignite fighting between refugees and West Timorese. "There's already hatred," said Mario Viera.

"The refugees are running out of food. They will loot and rob the locals who will then hate the East Timorese more and try to force the refugees out of West Timor."

Hundreds of aid workers were moved out after the militias killed three UNHCR foreign staff and at least six local residents in the West Timor town of Atambua on Wednesday.

After an emergency cabinet meeting on Friday, the Vice-President, Megawati Sukarnoputri, ordered 100 tons of rice to be sent to the refugees.

Atambua began returning to normal yesterday, but security remained tight. The Indonesian authorities have arrested 15 people over Wednesday's violence, but the UNHCR said it was not enough and might provoke retaliation by the militias. (Reuters)

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