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Red Cross Warns of East Timor Flare Up

The International Committee of the Red Cross says the tense calm, which has settled in East Timor could be broken at anytime. A Senior ICRC official just spent three weeks in East Timor, and says the country's stability is at risk. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from ICRC headquarters in Geneva.

The deputy head of ICRC operations for South East Asia and the Pacific, Samuel Bon, says the population remains deeply traumatized by war, and anything can cause panic and trigger large-scale displacement. He says the fighting that erupted two months ago displaced about 80,000 Timorese in the capital, Dili, and similar numbers have fled to the outlying districts.

He says most of their humanitarian needs are being met. But, what they most need is security and stability.

"You can tell that many people actually during the day go after their business and return to the camps only at night," he said. "Many camps in Dili have become night camps, because people are simply afraid to return home, and that what people most need is security and law and order, and actually to be able to trust that they can safely return home."

Bon says unemployed, frustrated young people are the main problem. He warns of the dangers of long-lasting displacement if the society is not stabilized and government services revitalized.

On the humanitarian front, he says, relief operations between United Nations and private aid agencies are well coordinated, and basic needs are being met. He says the situation in Dili is not alarming. He says tens-of-thousands of people are living in makeshift camps. But, their food, water and shelter needs are being met.

However, in districts outside Dili, in cold, mountainous areas, he says, people live in extreme poverty.

"There is chronic malnutrition," Bon said. "There is hardly any governmental infrastructures, lack of roads, lack of diversity of food in markets, etc. So, there is extreme poverty, and this poor population has to now actually host large numbers of IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons], and that makes it even more difficult for them."

Bon says the Red Cross is providing blankets, tarpaulins and food to both the displaced and the families that are hosting them.

On Friday, the Ministry of Health, supported by the U.N. Children's Fund and other agencies, launched a nutritional screening program of displaced children in Dili. UNICEF says the aim is to assess the extent of malnutrition among children, as East Timor enters its third month of emergency.