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UN Agencies Rush Emergency Supplies to East Timor

U.N. agencies are rushing emergency supplies to help tens of thousands of people displaced by violence in East Timor. The U.N. refugee agency is sending a 10 to 12 person emergency team to the small, embattled country over the weekend to help the government cope with logistic, administration and protection needs.

The U.N. refugee agency says it is airlifting aid supplies from stockpiles in Amman, Jordan to East Timor. This will include lightweight family tents, plastic sheeting, and other basic needs.

UNHCR Spokesman, Ron Redmond, says U.N., international and private agencies are working together to provide enough shelter and non-food supplies for up to 30,000 people displaced by the violence and looting.

The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people are displaced in East Timor. Redmond says about 65,000 are living in some 30 squalid encampments in the capital, Dili. He says another 35,000 people have fled to the countryside.

"UNHCR, working with the government and other agencies, is expected to establish new planned camps for the displaced, where they can stay in better conditions, where aid is easier to deliver until the security situation improves and they can go home," he said. "We are discussing security for those new camps now with the authorities and that will be an important factor in reassuring the displaced."

Redmond says his agency is flying three large portable warehouses into Dili to have enough room to store supplies. He says the UNHCR is taking nearly four million dollars out of its emergency fund to pay for the operation. But, he adds the money will have to be rapidly replenished.

World Food Program spokesman, Simon Pluess, says the volatile situation in East Timor is making it very difficult to transport and distribute food to vulnerable people. Nevertheless, he says WFP managed on Thursday to provide six tons of highly fortified biscuits to 6,000 children and pregnant women in camps in and around Dili, as well as to the national hospital.

"Part of the food had to be distributed by Australian troop escort at the Cannasan Church in Balide area where some 13,000 IDP's are staying," he said. "Security permitting, WFP will also distribute more food in IDP camps around Dili. In agreement with the government, we plan now to provide food to some 30,000 people in the countryside who have been affected by the fighting."

WFP says it has less than two weeks worth of food in the country and will have to airlift more in the coming days. Before the current crisis, the agency had been providing food aid to some 175,000 of the poorest and most vulnerable people in East Timor.