Timorese dying of hunger

EAST TIMORESE who fled their homes to escape bloody reprisals from pro-independence militia have begun to die of starvation and disease as aid agencies wait impatiently to enter the province behind the multinational peace-keeping troops.

As a second round of emergency food drops was carried out by Royal Australian Air Force cargo planes yesterday, Ross Mountain, the UN's humanitarian coordinator for East Timor, told the Independent on Sunday: "The situation is getting very dire indeed. We understand that in some areas people are succumbing to malnutrition and dying of hunger."

In one village alone near the town of Dare, six people had already died of starvation, said Mr Mountain. Dysentery and malaria have also claimed lives among refugees in the province, and epidemics of typhoid and cholera are feared due to lack of clean water and sanitation.

An estimated 300,000 refugees are in hiding in remote areas of East Timor, and another 150,000 are in West Timor, most of them living in insanitary and overcrowded camps.

Dozens of aid agencies are on stand-by in the north Australian city of Darwin, waiting to launch full-scale relief operations as soon as East Timor is secured by the international force.

There is grave concern about the plight of refugees in West Timor. An Oxfam aid worker who has just visited the two main camps in Kupang said in Darwin yesterday that two bodies, identified as East Timorese, had turned up in the past week. Janet Hunt, executive director of another charity, the Australian Council for Overseas Aid, said reliable sources had told him that militias had been seen combing the camps for independence supporters and taking men and boys away. "They have disappeared, fate unknown," she said.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, will visit Kupang and the border region today to try to assess the situation. The Oxfam worker, who asked not to be identified, said refugees in West Timor were terrified of a murderous backlash by the militias once the peacekeeping force went into action. "There is a real threat of reprisals, and these people are completely vulnerable," she said.

In another sinister development, the Indonesian authorities have reportedly declared that the refugees in West Timor are to be classed as "transmigrants" and resettled elsewhere in Indonesia. David Wimhurst, spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission in East Timor (Unamet), said some reports suggested that people had been forcibly removed by boat to other parts of the archipelago. "It's not clear how many, and confirmation has been difficult to get, but these reports are alarming," he said.

Isolated tales of courage and altruism are also emerging. The Oxfam worker told of a Filipino priest, known as Father Rolando, who had persuaded the Indonesian authorities to airlift 10,000 East Timorese to Kupang. They had all sought sanctuary in the compound of his Jesuit seminary in the town of Kormaro.

In Jakarta, Xanana Gusmao, leader of the Falintil East Timorese guerrilla army, said his field commanders had seen the Indonesian army, the TNI, firing mortar shells into hills where refugees were sheltering.

Mr Gusmao, who has taken refuge in the British embassy after his release from jail, said there had been scattered clashes between the army and Falintil fighters. He said of the militia and the TNI: "They are not human beings; they are irrational beings. They kill children, they kill babies. In the Balkans it was ethnic cleansing; in East Timor it is selective murder."

Yesterday's air drops, organised by the UN's World Food Programme, delivered 20 tons of food to refugees near the towns of Ermera and Bobonaro. Mr Wimhurst said that the drops, which will continue daily until supplies can be taken in by road, were a "quick-fix solution" that had "only touched a small portion" of the people in need. "It is clear that a massive amount of humanitarian aid has to go in," he said. "We need to get much more tonnage in on the ground and that will be done when the troops go in."

Aid workers yesterday expressed frustration at the delay. Vicky Horne, a spokeswoman for Oxfam, which is waiting to send in water tanks and sanitation equipment, said: "We are desperate to get in. Not tomorrow, not the next day, but today."

Suggested Topics
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
New Articles
i100... with this review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam