Subject: AFP: Indonesia rejects offer of medical help, Australia says
Date: Sat, 27 Mar 1999 09:16:54 -0500
From: "John M. Miller" <fbp@igc.apc.org>

Received from Joyo:

*Indonesia rejects offer of medical help, Australia says

SYDNEY, March 23 (AFP) - Indonesia has rejected Australia's offer of a surgical team for East Timor, despite evidence of a looming health crisis in the province, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Tuesday.

He told reporters an Australian aid team had found there was not a single public surgeon in East Timor and its health system was at risk of collapse if the exodus of doctors was not stemmed.

It also found evidence that 5,000 people had been forced to flee their homes by fighting and Australia would spend about 500,000 dollars (315,000 US) providing humanitarian assistance for them.

But Downer said an Australian aid mission has found no evidence of a large scale humanitarian crisis after six days of extensive meetings right across East Timor.

He ordered the assessment by Australia's overseas aid agency, AusAID, amid recent claims that food and other essential supplies were being withheld from the former Portuguese colony seized by Indonesia in 1976.

The AusAID report, released Tuesday, said: "The current situation regarding essential supplies in East Timor cannot be described as a humanitarian crisis.

"Aggregate food supplies in East Timor now appear to be adequate to cover the immediate food requirements."

The report found the health system was at risk of collapse if the exodus of doctors from East Timor was not stemmed and replacement doctors provided.

"Towards the end of 1998, we understand that there were 109 doctors in the government system," it said. "Now there are 81 doctors remaining."

"There has been no public surgeon for nearly one year."

Downer said Australia's offer to send a civilian surgical team to East Timor had been rejected by Indonesia, which instead promised to take action to deal with the crisis.

"If the Indonesians feel they can do it themselves, then that is a preferable outcome," he said. "As long as it's addressed then that's really our concern, not whether we address it or whether we don't."

He said Australia would spend about 500,000 dollars (315,000 US) providing humanitarian assistance for 5,000 people forced to flee their homes by fighting on East Timor.

But Downer said this was only a start and Australia stood ready to provide food, medicines and medical personnel at short notice should they be required.

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