Subject: SMH/E.Timor: Floods threaten enclave cut off from everything but misery

Sydney Morning Herald September 26, 2000

Floods threaten enclave cut off from everything but misery

An isolated East Timor community wants more from the United Nations, reports Mark Dodd in Oecussi.

It is the dry season and the villagers of Malelat, a remote collection of thatched huts amid parched mountains, are discussing an impending problem.

The unfinished concrete bridge across the watercourse dividing the community must be repaired before the monsoon rains at the end of the year, otherwise Maletat will be cut off from the nearest town of any size, Passabe.

Four hours walking distance away, Passabe and its 3,300 people face a similar problem. Here, in East Timor's enclave of Oecussi, set into the northern coast of Indonesia's West Timor, there are many layers of isolation.

The enclave's own isolation from the main part of East Timor was supposed to end with agreement on an overland corridor through West Timor that was signed in February by the head of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor, Mr Sergio Vieira de Mello, and the Indonesian President, Mr Abdurrahman Wahid.

But negotiations stalled, and the issue seems to have been shelved by the UN. Oecussi's 42,000 people remain isolated.

Militia violence and turmoil in refugee camps in West Timor have thwarted hopes of a secure land route for the six-hour drive to Dili. The result has been the first protests against UNTAET.

On Monday and Tuesday last week, about 150 people gathered outside the UN offices in Oecussi to demand a regular passenger ferry service to Dili.

Unlike UN staff and aid workers who are entitled to use the daily UNTAET flights to Dili, local people have to travel in the damp cargo hold of privately-run barges ferrying relief supplies to Oecussi.

The informal passenger service is provided free by the ships' Australian owners who sympathise with the plight of the locals.

But even this small concession is likely to stop because UN officials have told barge operators to stop taking passengers because the vessels do not have ferry licences, and lack proper safety equipment and toilets.

Angered at what they perceive as UN procrastination and a reluctance of many larger aid agencies to go near the border because of militia threats, some Oecussian young people are increasingly disenchanted, and banding to form self-help groups.

"I think a lot of NGOs and international organisations are too scared to go close to the border," said volunteer Mr Eddie Pina, an East Timorese returned from living in Perth. "It's 5.30pm, so UNTAET staff are now in the restaurants, drinking their beer."

Mr Pina had just returned from delivering supplies to a remote border community. "The fastest way to get these people material such as clothes and food is for us to do it ourselves," he said. "None of us are getting paid. This time we took rice, a lot of baby food, some books ... but mainly clothing and rice."

Border tensions with Indonesia have led to shortages of fuel, groceries and other necessities and higher prices for Oecussi's impoverished population.

Food scarcities now force many villagers living near the border to make a perilous journey into militia-controlled West Timor to scavenge or barter.

"There's been a bit of informal trade and we've had instances of people crossing from East to West who have not returned," said Senior Sergeant John Lehane, from Perth, who has been serving with UN civilian police in Oecussi for four months. "We've opened a missing persons file."

Based at Passabe, Sergeant Lehane said: "The crops are really suffering because of this dry season. Wells are drying up and there are more cases of TB and malaria here than in Oecussi [town]."

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