September 1999: Plans for East Timor food drop abandoned
yesterday abandoned efforts to drop food supplies ahead of
the arrival of troops in East Timor, leaving more than 60,000
refugees in the mountains at risk of starvation, sickness
Australian defence minister, John Moore, said plans to drop
the first food supplies yesterday were called off because
Indonesia had yet to give diplomatic clearance. Instead supplies
will be brought in after the first international troops arrive
in East Timor, possibly on Sunday or Monday. "You just can't
fly over and drop it," Mr Moore said.
nuns in East Timor accused the Indonesian military of planning
to bomb refugees once they leave their hiding places to search
for food parcels.
Jakarta, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC),
which wants to deliver food by guarded truck convoys, said
it had made only small deliveries of milk powder and candles
to the Dili airport and refugees nearby. The Red Cross had
only just obtained a promise that the Indonesian military
would escort convoys but lacked enough local staff to start
imminent arrival of foreign troops in East Timor should improve
security for food deliveries and give an indication of how
many people have fled into the mountains, have been forcibly
deported to West Timor or have been killed by pro-Indonesian
militias and Indonesian forces.
stories abound about massacres of East Timorese, including
reports of boats leaving Dili full and returning empty within
an hour, well before they could have reached a safe destination.
Of particular concern is the notable scarcity of men in the
refugee camps, lending credence to eyewitness reports of targeted
woman who had 24 refugees staying in her house said armed
pro-Indonesian militiamen were still dominating the streets
of Atambua, a border town that houses some 75,000 East Timorese.
She said militiamen had knived one refugee earlier this week
and later dragged him out of hospital before doctors could
treat his wounds.
Red Cross said one of its staff had been kidnapped and another
had disappeared. Because of militia attacks on foreigners,
only local Red Cross staff could enter the camps but the ICRC
hoped to start fielding foreigners in West Timor next week.
concern, noted by diplomats in Jakarta, is government plans
to relocate the refugees to other islands.
governor of East Nusa Tenggara, the province that includes
West Timor, earlier this week sent a list of suggested migration
sites on nearby islands to the interior minister, Syarwan
Hamid. United Nations officials, on the other hand, were trying
to persuade Indonesia to ensure a safe return for refugees
to East Timor.
refugees may be quite willing to relocate. Many of the 141,000
refugees in West Timor are part of some 90,000 people who
voted for integration within Indonesia, including thousands
of non-Timorese civil servants.
Indonesian police officer who fled with his family to Atambua
thought migration was a good idea. "What would they want to
go back for?" he said. "Everything has been destroyed."
(C) Financial Times Ltd, 1982-1997