Subject: 740,000 in E.Timor need food aid: UN World Food Program

740,000 in East Timor need food aid: UN World Food Program

GENEVA, Sept 28 (AFP) - More than 80 percent of East Timor's population will soon need food aid, a spokeswoman for the UN World Food Program (WFP) said Tuesday.

"The rainy season is coming, the roads will be less navigable. A race against the clock is on," she said.

The agency said 740,000 East Timorese, of an estimated population of 880,000, are in need of assistance.

Some 120,000 protein biscuits have already been dropped on East Timor, as well as 172,000 ration meals, and food drops continue in the province.

The WFP has 6,000 tonnes of rice on the ground and 600 more tonnes are scheduled to arrive Wednesday in Darwin, Australia, for distribution in the East Timorese capital of Dili.

An additional 6,400 tonnes of rice are scheduled to arrive in Dili October 13 by ship from Surabaya, Indonesia.

Also on Tuesday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said Indonesian authorities have told them 60 percent of the 230,000 refugees in West Timor want to return to their homes in East Timor.

"We have no way to verify the figures, and our position is very delicate, given that humanitarian organizations in West Timor only have access to refugees through the Indonesian authorities," said UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski.

UNHCR representatives met Tuesday with West Timorese governor Piet Thallo in Kupang, capital of the territory. Thallo said the priority should be to help refugees, and that it was too early to discuss their return to East Timor, according to Janowski.

In Rome, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation said that since a FAO Special Alert on East Timor earlier this month, the deployment of UN peace enforcement forces had brought uneasy calm to Dili, but the overall security situation remained highly volatile.

Although, the multinational force is gaining more access, the situation outside Dili still remains highly dangerous, hampering urgently needed humanitarian operations, a FAO statement said.

Currently it is estimated that 400,000 people remain hidden in mountain areas or are housed in make-shift camps in East and West Timor, the UN agency said. The majority of the displaced, up to 60 percent, are from rural areas.

The extreme shortage of food has meant that a number of government food stores have been rampaged by desperate and hungry people, with over 8,000 tonnes of food looted so far.

The effects of the shortages have been exacerbated by mounting health problems, with diarrhoea, respiratory infections and malaria being the principal concerns, the FAO said.

There are fears that many health problems could result in chronic illnesses as the health sector has been crippled by the devastation and large numbers of doctors and health works have left.

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