Subject: SMH: Death by cruel neglect in East Timor
Date: Fri, 12 Mar 1999 18:28:26 -0500
From: "John M. Miller" <fbp@igc.apc.org>

Received from Joyo:

Sydney Morning Herald Wednesday, March 10, 1999

*Death by cruel neglect in East Timor

By LINDSAY MURDOCH, Herald Correspondent in Dili

Warnings by East Timor aid workers and political leaders of a pending food and health disaster have been reinforced by a grim diagnosis from the only foreign doctor working in the territory, who says between 50 and 100 Timorese are already dying every day from curable diseases.

United States-born Dr Dan Murphy told the Herald that East Timor's 850,000 people had already been abandoned by Indonesia, whose President, Dr B.J. Habibie, has said the troubled territory may become independent by next January.

Dr Murphy said that every day scores of Indonesians working in government departments including hospitals, clinics and schools were leaving East Timor, fearing revenge attacks after Jakarta's 23-year often brutal rule.

"The health system has collapsed. Schools are not functioning well. Supplies are limited," Dr Murphy said in Dili, where he treats between 100 and 200 people each day in a Catholic-run clinic.

Dr Murphy said mothers were dying during childbirth, while others were dying from diarrhoea, malnutrition and tuberculosis, which was common.

"I can't imagine a country with more tuberculosis than Timor," he said. "People are not dying here of old age. They are dying of preventable and curable diseases."

Dr Murphy said it was clear Indonesia had a deliberate policy not to allow medical supplies into East Timor from outside Indonesia, including Australia, where aid groups say they are ready to help.

But other residents say it is not clear that the shortages are being deliberately engineered. They told AAP yesterday that food stocks had run down in East Timor and that suppliers were not willing to risk not being paid for large shipments.

The Dili director of the Catholic relief agency Caritas, Father Franciscus Parreto, said there was no proof of manipulation, though it was possible. But the price of rice had certainly almost doubled in some cases.

"Because prices are expensive, many people cannot afford to buy rice," he said.

Dr Murphy backed calls by pro-independence Timorese leaders, foreign aid groups operating in the territory and several countries including the United States, for an urgent international force to be sent to East Timor following the departure of at least 7,000 mostly Muslim migrants from Java and other Indonesian islands in recent weeks.

For decades non-Timorese have controlled most of East Timor's trade and held most of the key posts in Indonesian Government departments administering the territory that Indonesian troops invaded in 1975.

As Dr Murphy spoke, hundreds of non-Timorese families were being packed into an Indonesian passenger ferry bound for Sulawesi.

"There is nothing for us here. We won't be back," a public servant said, before boarding with his wife and two children.

Many of an estimated 200,000 non-Timorese say they fear for their future after Jakarta offered East Timor a choice between wide-ranging autonomy and independence. Many also claim they have been the targets of violence, abuse, threats and extortion.

In Sydney, Dr Andrew MacNaughtan, of the group Timorese Aid, said many Australian organisations were ready to send medical and other supplies but their efforts had been frustrated by an inability to transport them.

"There is a growing network, particularly from the medical side in Sydney and Melbourne, which wants to help, but we have so far been unable to find ways to transport the supplies," he said.

Dr McNaughton said it appeared the situation was becoming dire in East Timor with the only medical supplies coming from Australia being carried in small parcels, such as suitcases.

"If we knew a way we could do it, we could arrange for supplies to be sent almost immediately," he said.

Dr Murphy, a volunteer who has worked in poor African and South American countries, said a Sydney group wanted to send an operating theatre to Dili "but the problem is getting it in".

"Much help appears to be available from around the world. If we could only get permission to get it in it would be a big step in the right direction," he said.

Dr Murphy said three tonnes of medical supplies from Europe had failed to clear Customs in Jakarta where authorities were charging an aid organisation for storage.

"It is a sad state of affairs considering what is available here," he said. "Nothing is being done to help these people."

The Foreign Minister, Mr Downer, has agreed that an Australian aid worker can travel to East Timor to assess the worsening supply and health situation.

Pro-independence Timorese leaders have warned of a humanitarian crisis on Australia's doorstep unless drastic and urgent action is taken.

Mr Antonio "Mahuno" da Costa, a former leader of the anti-Indonesian Fretilin movement, told the Herald in Dili that Australia had a moral responsibility to help in East Timor in times of crisis like this because of the assistance Timorese had given Australian soldiers during World War II.

Mr da Costa said Portugal, which ruled the territory for 400 years but abruptly abandoned it in 1975, had assured pro-independence groups it was ready to ship tonnes of emergency aid, including medical supplies, if approval was given by the Indonesian Government.

Dr Murphy said 23 church clinics were administering health care across East Timor while the main public hospital in Dili was barely functioning.

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