Subject: CNS: Catholic aid agencies warn of starvation in West Timor

Catholic aid agencies warn of starvation in West Timor By Stephen Steele Catholic News Service

MALIANA, East Timor (CNS) -- The 120,000 refugees in squalid refugee camps in West Timor were in danger of starvation and serious illness after all humanitarian aid organizations suspended operations following the killings of three U.N. aid workers, said Catholic aid agencies.

``Everyone has suspended operations. There are no relief operations in West Timor,'' said Michael Frank, Catholic Relief Services country representative for Indonesia. CRS is the U.S. bishops' international relief and development agency.

``There is definitely going to be a food problem there,'' he said.

Frank said in mid-September that there had been no food distribution in the refugee camps for more than six weeks as threats against humanitarian aid workers by pro-Indonesia militia groups intensified.

``There are food stocks available. But whether the Indonesian military is capable or willing to get them out is anybody's guess. But the food stocks are definitely there,'' he said.

Meanwhile, U.N. staff and humanitarian aid agencies were girding for the possibility of a mass influx of refugees back into East Timor in the wake of recent violence. In Maliana, near West Timor's border, an emergency meeting was held Sept. 9 to discuss what one aid worker called a ``logistical nightmare.''

CRS evacuated its three international staff members from Kupang, West Timor, Sept. 6, the day three U.N. staff were killed in a mob attack in Atambua. Another 27 CRS local staff members in Atambua were evacuated by convoy to Batugade in East Timor, where they were flown to Dili, East Timor, in a U.N. helicopter, Frank said.

Frank said threats had been made against CRS staff in the days leading to the evacuation, with militias gathering outside the CRS office in Atambua Sept. 6.

``The militias were going door-to-door asking where the leaders of the NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) were. They were looking for international staff, no matter where they could find them. They then started looking for top national staff. We evacuated any national staff who felt threatened,'' he said.

CRS had been providing food for about 60,000 people residing in more than 100 refugee camps in West Timor.

Jesuit Refugee Services, which provided nonfood aid and pastoral care in refugee camps in Atambua, Betun and Kupang, had also suspended operations, said Vanessa Von Schoon, Jesuit Refugee Services human rights officer.

A team of seven Jesuit Refugee Services workers were visiting camps in Kupang and assessing the situation there, Von Schoon said. All of Jesuit Refugee Services staff in West Timor are Indonesian, she said.

``The situation is stable but still tense,'' she said.

Von Schoon said hunger for vulnerable families would be a problem since food distribution was interrupted.

``These families have been living there for a year, and some have set up there own networks, such as a small garden for vegetables. But the women with five or six children to feed and other vulnerable families will have big problems,'' she said.

Of greater concern was the fact that all doctors and nurses connected to aid agencies have pulled out, increasing the danger of serious illness, Von Schoon said.

``Right now the refugees have very little support. It's in our best interests to return to the camps as soon as possible and find the long-term solution so that those who want to return to East Timor can do so safely, and those who wish to repatriate to Indonesia can do so safely,'' she said.

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