Subject: AFP: Rice for some refugee camps, starvation feared in others

Agence France Presse September 22, 2000, Friday

Rice for some West Timorese refugee camps, starvation feared in others Bronwyn Curran

JAKARTA, Sept 22

Local aid workers who have begun returning to West Timor following the murder of three UN humanitarian workers there, report patchy food handouts are reaching some refugee camps but not others.

A Christian relief agency said Friday it fears refugees may be starving in at least one camp near the West Timorese border town of Atambua.

The agency's staff fled the province with the rest of the aid community in the wake of the murders in Atambua on September 6.

Fifteen of its local staff have returned and since Monday have entered a handful of camps, the agency's field co-ordinator told AFP.

However they have been turned away from two camps and have yet to visit several others, including one that was short of food before the relief workers' exodus.

"There is one camp near Atambua which even before the UNHCR deaths was already facing starvation. They were out of rice and they had begun eating cassava," the co-ordinator, who requested anonymity, said by phone from West Timor.

"Surely they are suffering even more now," he said.

The agency's staff have successfully entered three camps near the provincial capital of Kupang, two near Atambua, and some near the southern town of Betun.

But people they referred to as "camp leaders" turned them away from two camps near Atambua on the grounds of security risks.

"We went to visit a camp where we understood one of the refugees was in need of a doctor, but when we arrived and asked if we could enter, the leader told us he couldn't guarantee our security," the co-ordinator said.

He said that at another camp they were told they "had better not enter" because they had been accused of working for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The co-ordinator said his staff had found "food shortages" in camps they had entered, but not to the point of starvation.

In camps near Kupang, he said, refugees had recently received rice from local authorities.

"In the last four days, they've been given 10 kilograms of rice per person but it's not clear how long that's meant to last. What is clear is that it was emergency relief," he said.

However he said it didn't appear that rice had been reaching the Atambua camps, where he said the atmosphere was "very tense."

A local doctor had accompanied them inside two Atambua camps and found the health of the refugees "generally, not too bad," he said.

The co-ordinator said his staff had not been directly harrassed, but were constantly told of rumours that "people are looking for them."

"But whether that's just because we were absent for almost two weeks or for other reasons, is not clear," he said.

He said his staff were approaching militia leaders before entering any camp and asking their permission first.

The co-ordinator considered the biggest problem for the refugees -- which the provincial government estimates to number 128,000 -- to be security.

"Really, the majority of them want to go home," he said. "But they are worried that they can't because it's not safe."

A district disaster relief co-ordinator was quoted in the Pos Kupang newspaper as saying that the Kupang district administration had not received enough rice from the provincial government to feed the 40,000 refugees camped there.

"If we hand out a standard 10 kilograms of rice per person per month, the refugees (in this district) definitely cannot be helped. We're still short by 120 tonnes of rice," Melkinaus Bunga said.

He said 173.27 tonnes of rice had been distributed by authorities, however camps housing refugees from the East Timorese towns of Ailieu and Baucau had not been given any.

The deputy governor of West Timor, Johannes Pakepani, told AFP last Tuesday that his administration would run out of rice for the refugees by the end of this week.

However the head of the UN administration in East Timor, Sergio De Vieira de Mello, has challenged such claims.

"The World Food Program (WFP) ... has noted that there were 15,000 metric tonnes of rice in government warehouses in West Timor that could be used to feed the refugee population for more than three months," de Mello said in a statement issued Friday.

"WFP is confident that local government officials are fully capable of carrying out the food deliveries to the camps."

Refugees have been camped in Indonesian West Timor since they were driven out of neighbouring East Timor 12 months ago by Jakarta-backed pro-Indonesia militia, following the territory's vote for independence.

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