Subject: SMH: Indon 'red tape' strangles food drops to starving refugees
Date: Wed, 22 Sep 1999 11:50:15 EDT

Sydney Morning Herald Thursday, September 23, 1999

Red tape strangles food drops


The United Nations East Timor mission yesterday blamed Indonesian Government requirements for holding up critically needed food supplies for tens of thousands of starving East Timorese refugees.

After the first airlifts in three days left Darwin early yesterday morning, the spokesman for the UN East Timor mission, Mr David Wimhurst, said RAAF and UN airdrop flights out of Darwin had to first land at Dili's small airport for inspection by Government officials.

Indonesia also required most of the flights take Indonesian observers aboard at Dili so the authorities could be satisfied only food supplies were being dropped to the refugees.

The requirement that the Hercules transport planes first put down at Dili meant all airdrop flights had to be suspended during the first two days of the Interfet military airlift into Dili because Dili airport's tarmac only had room for two Hercules transports at any one time, Mr Wimhurst said.

The UN was trying to negotiate a more flexible agreement but accepted, for now, that the requirements be met.

"This is part of the confidence building that we have to do. They are wanting to be assured that we are not carrying anything that is not humanitarian aid," Mr Wimhurst said.

RAAF Hercules transports made three relief drop flights over eastern parts of East Timor yesterday and a chartered UN flight made one, using a modified South African Hercules aircraft, known as a Snowdropper.

The aircraft drops thousands of small parcels of food sealed in packages shaped like a wing which rotate after they are dropped, landing gently to minimise damage to the contents and injury to those on the ground. Each package contains special high-protein biscuits.

The RAAF dropped ration packs over three areas - Umori, Lura and Baguia - where there are large concentrations of refugees hiding out with pro-indpendence Falintil fighters.

A UN World Food Program spokeswoman in Darwin, Ms Abbey Spring, said the UN hoped Interfet forces in East Timor would be able to secure roads so the UN could begin trucking food to refugee enclaves.

She said the World Food Program was raising $8 million from donor countries for spending in East Timor, and Japan had already pledged $US1 million which would buy 15 trucks for use in the territory.

Yesterday, UN, UNICEF and World Food Program representatives and other delegations, including the Swedish Foreign Minister, arrived in East Timor for urgent discussions about the refugee crisis with the head of the UN East Timor mission, Mr Ian Martin.

The UN estimates at least 200,000 to 300,000 refugees are in hiding in East Timor and are desperately short of food. Medical groups complained yesterday that they were being blocked by authorities from getting into East Timor to treat refugees needing emergency attention. Aid agencies Medecins Sans Frontieres and Medecins Du Monde claimed journalists were receiving priority over medical workers for seats on flights into Dili.

The groups criticised the Australian Defence Force for allocating 24 seats yesterday and on Tuesday to journalists when doctors were ready to go in without military protection.

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