Timor-Leste: UN plans emergency airlift to aid up to 100,000 people displaced by unrest

2 June 2006 – The United Nations was poised to begin an emergency airlift to Timor-Leste today with urgently needed supplies for tens of thousands of displaced people as radio and TV stations continued to broadcast a videotaped appeal from Secretary-General Kofi Annan for calm in the violence-torn country which the UN shepherded to independence from Indonesia four years ago.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the first flight in the airlift was scheduled to leave Amman, Jordan, late tonight with lightweight family tents, plastic sheets and jerry cans for some of the more than 100,000 people – about 1 in 10 of the total population – uprooted by the unrest that began with the dismissal in April of a third of the armed forces.

Further flights are planned, probably using Darwin in Australia as a staging point, to bring in more tents and plastic sheeting as well as blankets, mosquito nets and kitchen sets. An emergency team is deploying to Dili, the capital, over the weekend to reinforce staff already on the ground.

“In a phased approach and in a joint effort with other United Nations agencies, international organizations and NGOs (non-governmental organizations), UNHCR is sending shelter and non-food supplies for up to 30,000 people displaced by the violence and looting,” agency spokesman Ron Redmond told journalists in Geneva.

The UN Office in Timor-Leste (UNOTIL) reported today that although there had been some looting and burning in scattered areas in the suburb of Becora in Dili, more people were out on the streets trying to get back to their daily routines, such as selling their produce.

Mr. Annan’s message, in which he urged the people to set aside their differences in the interest of the nation, was aired on national television last night after being broadcast by radio stations during the day, and was due to be broadcast again.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is providing highly fortified biscuits to 6,000 children and pregnant women in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in and around Dili. It is also planning to supply food to 30,000 IDPs in the countryside.

That agency said a warehouse containing food was secure despite an attempt yesterday by youths to enter it.

Security, particularly during loading, is being reinforced. Australian troops who have been invited in by the Government to help restore order have included the warehouse in their patrol route.

Mr. Redmond said UNHCR expected to help establish new camps for IDPs where they can live in better conditions and aid will be easier to deliver until security improves and they can return to their homes. The agency is discussing security for the camps with the authorities as this will be an important factor in reassuring IDPs, he added.

UNHCR has called on its operational reserves to initially fund the operation, which will cost an estimated $3.7 million, but these funds will need to be replenished rapidly.

To boost the agency’s warehousing capacity for the airlift, three large portable warehouses are being transferred from its logistics warehouse in Medan, on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

Mr. Annan’s envoy Ian Martin, head of the UN Human Rights Mission in Nepal whom he sent urgently to Timor-Leste last week, has met with President Xanana Gusmão, Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, and other Government leaders and sectors of society, and is expected to report back to the Secretary-General shortly on steps to ease the crisis.

Mr. Martin was Mr. Annan’s Special Representative in East Timor, as it was called then, in 1999 when the country voted for independence from Indonesia, which had occupied it after Portugal left in 1974.

Related Stories