Subject: RA: Australian aid agency report describes "climate of uncertainty"
Date: Sat, 27 Mar 1999 09:19:16 -0500
From: "John M. Miller" <fbp@igc.apc.org>

BBC Summary of World Broadcasts Australian aid agency report describes "climate of uncertainty" Radio Australia, Melbourne, in English 1005 gmt 23 Mar 99

Excerpts from report by Radio Australia on 23rd March

[Presenter Peter Mares] The Indonesian government has given Australia the go-ahead to send food and shelter to help 5,000 East Timorese displaced from their homes. However, Jakarta has rejected Australia's offer of a civilian surgical team to meet critical gaps in medical services. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer announced the moves when releasing an AusAid [Australian Agency for International Development] assessment of East Timor, which details the numbers fleeing the region and the rundown of supplies. >From Canberra, Graeme Dobell reports.

[Dobell] The resistance leader and Nobel Prize winner, Jose Ramos Horta, told Alexander Downer two weeks ago that Indonesia was trying to blackmail East Timor by cutting off essential supplies.

[Ramos Horta] There is an impending humanitarian catastrophe in the next few weeks if no initiative, no actions are taken right now, to provide supply of food, medicine, essential commodities.

[Dobell] The report by Australian aid officials after a six-day tour of East Timor discounts the prospect of an immediate, large-scale humanitarian disaster. But the AusAid report paints a picture of a climate of uncertainty, rife with rumours, placing great strains on the normal supply network. The recent rush of Indonesians leaving East Timor is shown by the 13,000 passengers who embarked in the port of Dili in the first two-and-a-half months of this year. That 13,000 figure is equal to all the passengers who embarked last year. AusAid says 70 per cent of the non-Timorese traders in the Dili market have left. The retailers who remain are delaying orders. The volume of non-rice goods discharged in Dili has dropped from a monthly average of 26,000 tonnes last year to just 3,700 tonnes in February.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says the AusAid mission found no evidence that shortages are deliberately engineered by Indonesia.

[Downer] It was concluded that whilst there are localized shortages of food and some medicines, the overall supply situation had improved recently and was generally speaking considered to be adequate. The localized shortages are believed to result mainly from internal transport and distribution bottlenecks and have been exacerbated by concerns over security. We understand there are further imports of food and medicines in the pipeline, which should lead to further improvements in the food and medical supply situation.

[Dobell] Australia's immediate response to the estimated 5,000 East Timorese displaced from their homes by recent violence and unrest is the dispatch of food, shelter and basic supplies. The AusAid team found critical gaps in East Timor's health care system, saying it could collapse if the exodus of Indonesian doctors is not stemmed...

[Dobell] Mr Downer says East Timor's decision on autonomy or independence may happen in July, one month after Indonesia's national election on 7th June. The foreign minister expects Indonesia and Portugal to agree on the autonomy package at the United Nations talks next month, but he says it would be very difficult to organize a free and comprehensive consultation process before Indonesia's election.

[Downer] Some people are concerned about this and some aren't. I, personally, don't think that is an overwhelming problem. I think if the consultation takes place, for example, some time during July, that isn't a particular difficulty. It might be neater to have the consultation according to what President Habibie wanted, which was before the 7th June elections, but nevertheless, if it happens in July I don't think that is going to be a major problem.

[Dobell] Apart from East Timor, Mr Downer says the unity of the Indonesian state still seems secure. He deplores the recent violence in Ambon and Kalimantan, calling on the Indonesian people to show restraint at a difficult time.

[Downer] You know, when the Asian economic crisis hit Indonesia, we said that this would cause instability in Indonesia. We wanted that instability to be kept to a minimum, but we accepted that there was going to be considerable instability. It may be that the clashes are ethnic and religious, but I think they play back into the extraordinary change in the economic environment in the country born out of the economic crisis. So, tragic as these clashes are, they don' t come as a surprise to us.

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