Subject: Eyewitness: Peacekeepers overwhelmed by welcome in Dare
Date: Tue, 21 Sep 1999 08:52:28 EDT

Also: Despite INTERFET's arrival, refugees won't leave mountains

Austtralian Broadcasting Corporation PM News Hour transcript Tuesday, September 21, 1999 6:11

Peacekeepers overwhelmed by East Timorese welcome

MARK COLVIN: In widening circles of influence first, the multinational force in East Timor is gradually making its mark. Thousands of Timorese who fled from the capital, Dili, were given new hope of a safe return today by the arrival of a multinational force convoy in Dare. That's the town in the hills 20 minutes drive behind Dili. Many of the refugees are hiding in the bush around there.

Our correspondent, Geoff Thompson, went into Dare with the convoy. He joins me live on the satellite phone from Dili now. Geoff, what did you see today?

GEOFF THOMPSON: Well, Mark, it was an extraordinary sight as we sort of climbed up the hill in a [indistinct] convoy with Australian soldiers sort of leading the ready response group. It was escorting the UN back into Dare. As we came up the hill, we could hear cheers from a kilometre away, from the actual hill top, and as we approached the street, people flooded out of the forest, they lined the streets, they cheered, they banged the car in happiness and the welcoming for the peacekeepers was quite overwhelming and I think it was overwhelming for them too. One Australian soldier said that it sent shivers down his spine to get that sort of welcome and feel that sort of purpose about what they were doing and what they are doing in East Timor.

MARK COLVIN: What kind of condition were people in?

GEOFF THOMPSON: Well, people were not, you know, huddled in sort of groups of clearly malnourished, starving people, but there were some people who were quite ill. We met one young man who I've known from Dili in the past and he'd lost a lot of weight. He told me he had malaria, and other people like David [indistinct], the independence leader, he also had lost a lot of weight. The nephew of Xanana Gusmao was also there, in much the same condition.

And one of the refugees there told us they were now living on cassava, they were living on roots and leaves and that's all they really had, and their humanitarian state was really quite desperate.

MARK COLVIN: Now, you met people that, as you say, that you knew from Dili previously. What kind of things did they tell you about what they've been doing in the last couple of weeks and the condition of their lives?

GEOFF THOMPSON: Well, they said, you know, that the last few weeks have been quite horrible. They've been chased out of Dili and other parts of the territory and they've said that the experience is something which they do not ever want to re-live again. Nearly all of them have got tales of loved ones being taken across the border to West Timor or loved ones that are entirely unaccounted for.

One gentleman I came across was Vindito Orflataz (phonetic) of Caritas, East Timor, who has often worked with the refugees in the past, but now he's a refugee himself, and he told us something of what has been happening in the Dare area these last few weeks.

Have you been attacked here, have the militia attacked you, or the military?

VINDITO ORFLATAZ: Well, several of them from the [indistinct] militias attacked.

GEOFF THOMPSON: How many people are here?

VINDITO ORFLATAZ: I'm not quite sure about the number, but I can just roughly estimate that there could be some 100,000 to 250,000 possibly.

GEOFF THOMPSON: Are people planning to return to Dili?

VINDITO ORFLATAZ: Yes. Everybody here is expecting to get to Dili very soon as possible.

GEOFF THOMPSON: Do you have any food? What's the food situation in Dare at the moment?

VINDITO ORFLATAZ: People are just surviving from the roots of many - of cassava leaves and everything, you know, and it is a kind of another problem for the people [indistinct] because [indistinct] situation later.

MARK COLVIN: So, Geoff, did you bring - or the convoy you were on, did it bring food and water into them, or is that coming later?

GEOFF THOMPSON: I think that's coming later, Mark. This was a recognisance mission to assess the security situation in Dare. It was the first time the multinational force had ventured outside of Dili and it was an extremely well equipped force. We weren't allowed to know what units the soldiers were from, but I think there was no doubt they were from specialist units who were ready for trouble.

On the way up they expected road blocks. We didn't come across any road blocks, but we were told quite clearly before leaving that if we did come across road blocks, they would not be stopped, they were going through to Dare and that they could guarantee us. But in terms of humanitarian aid, not this time round, but Ian Martin was very concerned about that because 20 people have died from malnutrition and other ailments in the last few weeks in the area, and Ross Mountain, who is from the UN, who is food drop manager, he too was very concerned about that, and that is the next move, is to start getting humanitarian aid in there, and also to try and get people back to Dili once they are sure that it is entirely secure in the capital.

MARK COLVIN: Well, if they do decide that they're confident enough to get back into Dili, what kind of a reception will they get, what kind of a town is it now, what kind of a life will they be able to rebuild?

GEOFF THOMPSON: Well, Dili is a shattered city. It really - there isn't much here at all. There are a lot of houses and a lot of structures still standing, but there isn't anything in them and they have smoke-blackened walls where flames have licked up their sides after being torched. All the government buildings have been burnt. All the shops - not one shop that I've been to in the past when I have been living in Dili was standing, it was a guttered and blackened entrance to those places.

And the entire population of Dili, or from elsewhere, are really living in the streets and parks of the capital. All along the waterfront, where next to the ocean, is really a shanty town, a tent city of people living in quite desperate conditions.

MARK COLVIN: Geoff Thompson in Dili on the satellite phone. Thanks for that.

ABC PM News Hour Tuesday, September 21, 1999 6:17

Despite INTERFET's arrival, refugees won't leave mountains

MARK COLVIN: A Timorese resistance representative who's in the mountains with up to 15,000 refugees says their situation is getting grim, with no food and no medicine to care for the sick and dying. Despite the arrival of peacekeepers in Dili, he says they don't feel it's safe to return until all of East Timor is free of Indonesian military and militia.

Michael Vincent reports:

MICHAEL VINCENT: News Australian and other international soldiers have secured Dili has already reached those high in the mountains. But a resistance representative who does not wish to be named says it's still not safe for them to come down from their forest sanctuary because Indonesian military are waiting for them.

UNIDENTIFIED: It's not safe for us because now there are intelligence forces and TNI members everywhere, you know, around Dili.

MICHAEL VINCENT: He says there are thousands of refugees starving as they wait for food to come to them. He says others are dying because there are no medical supplies to cure their diseases. But they won't leave their mountain to get help.

UNIDENTIFIED: No. The people who ask about the food and the medical assistance because many people sense there are no medicines, you know, no medical assistance. They need medical assistance and food.

MICHAEL VINCENT: What condition are they in?

UNIDENTIFIED: The condition is too bad, you know, too bad, to live in the mountains, the forests, not in there and not in their houses, you know.

MICHAEL VINCENT: The only time they believe it will be safe for them to return is when all East Timor is free from militia and they're back as the Indonesian military, and they say they are prepared to wait even longer than they already have.

UNIDENTIFIED: Maybe after the peacekeeping force control all of the villages, yes, we can return to our villages.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Only when the UN controls all of East Timor?

UNIDENTIFIED: Yes, I would think so, and after - we think when we will go back to our villages if no Indonesians or TNI are in the territory.

MARK COLVIN: An East Timorese resistance representative speaking to Michael Vincent from his mountain refuge.

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