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Humanitarian Crisis Looms in East Timor

Tens of thousands of people displaced by the violence wracking East Timor are facing a humanitarian crisis, with food, water, and medicine in short supply at dozens of camps that have sprung up around the capital. Violence between rival gangs continues, despite the presence of more than two thousand peacekeepers.

The violence that has engulfed Dili for more than a week as armed rival gangs rampaged through the city subsided Wednesday, a day after the popular president, Xanana Gusmao, took over the nation's security.

But later in the day, sporadic fighting and arson attacks resumed, hampering aid deliveries to the estimated 100,000 people displaced by the fighting.

Over 13,000 people are crammed into one camp near Dili's airport, too afraid to return home. Many say they want to wait and see if the violence ends following Mr. Gusmao's assumption of emergency powers.

Aid volunteers call out names as they hand out bowls of noodles. Alberto Francisco waits in line to collect what little food there is for his family.

Francisco says the leaders of the country must solve the problem, because it is the common people who are suffering.

Brother Adriano, one of those in charge of the camp, says they desperately need supplies.

"At this moment we need really humanitarian support - food, water, medicine," he said. "These people [are] already here in this camp more than one month…in spite of the Australian troops arriving, but the number population at this camp every day is…increasing."

The fighting was sparked last month by a violent split in the military over alleged discrimination and poor working conditions. This prompted the first wave of people to flee to the camps.

The violence deteriorated into general anarchy last week with gangs from the west of the country, who are perceived as supporting Indonesia's 24-year brutal rule of East Timor, fighting gangs from the east, who are perceived to have supported independence.

Inga Metham, the deputy country program manager for Oxfam based in Dili says the lack of security for trucks to deliver aid to the people is one of the biggest problems facing aid organizations.

"Definitely the first priority coming out is around security, the second is around food, third water, fourth sanitation, and health care is followed quite quickly," she noted.

The increasing lawlessness led the government to appeal for international peacekeepers, who began arriving last week from Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, and Portugal.