Timor-Leste: UN officials continue talks to end violence; funding shortfall threatens aid

30 June 2006 – As United Nations envoys continued their efforts today to calm tensions and plan for a possible expanded UN police force in Timor-Leste, a funding shortfall is threatening food supplies for 155,000 people, 15 per cent of the total population, displaced by the violence that ripped through the small South-East Asian nation over the past two months.

“While we have had a good response to the flash appeal there are critical shortfalls in the area of food supplies and health,” UN humanitarian coordinator Finn Reske-Nielsen said. “The displaced population is incredibly vulnerable and the camps have the potential to become flashpoints if we cannot continue to provide basic humanitarian needs.”

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) announced today that it has already reduced rations of supplementary food for internally displaced persons (IDP) camps, and warned that vital food supplies will be exhausted within two weeks. It had asked for $5.2 million in the recent flash appeal but has so far received only $2.2 million.

The agency started immediately reducing its corn-soy blend of flour by 25 per cent per person, and warned that its school feeding and mother and child programmes are at risk. The bulk of the food is provided by the Government, while WFP‘s contribution is supplementary.

The Ministry of Health, supported by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other partners, today launched a nutritional screening of displaced children in Dili, the capital, to assess the extent of malnutrition.

Mr. Reske-Nielsen said the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF would start paying the salaries for Labour Ministry employees directly involved in humanitarian assistance.

On the political front, Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative in Timor-Leste, Sukehiro Hasegawa, and Special Envoy Ian Martin continued their contacts with government officials to help find a solution to the crisis which erupted in late April with the dismissal of 600 soldiers, a third of the armed forces. At least 37 people have been killed in the turmoil, attributed to differences between eastern and western regions.

The two UN officials met with Senior Minister Jose Ramos-Horta and were briefed on a plan designed to replace Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, who resigned on Monday, without dissolving parliament.

Some 3,000 demonstrators from the eastern regions, who descended on Dili yesterday in support of Mr. Alkatiri and camped overnight in front of the government house, were addressed by both Mr. Alkatiri and President Xanana Gusmao today before being escorted out of town by Australian soldiers without major incidents. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that the capital was calmer.

The Combined Task Force from Australia, New Zealand, Portugal and Malaysia, invited in by the Government, is helping to quell violence, but Mr. Annan has said it is obvious that the UN will have to go back “in a much larger form than we are at the moment” to the country that it shepherded to independence from Indonesia just four years ago.

The world body first set up the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) in 1999 after the country voted for independence from Indonesia, which had taken it over at the end of Portugal’s colonial rule in 1974. Mr. Martin was Mr. Annan's Special Representative in the territory at that time.

This robust structure was kept until independence in 2002, when UNTAET was replaced with a downsized operation, the UN Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET). This in turn was succeeded by the current, even smaller UN office in Timor-Leste (UNOTIL), which has a mandate through 20 August. The Security Council has asked Mr. Annan to report back on a possible expanded UN presence in the country by early August.

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