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East Timor: Assessing the needs

14-10-1999 News Release 99/41

ICRC relief and medical staff have begun fanning out from Dili to assess the needs facing East Timorese as they return to their devastated towns and villages.

Improved security conditions and the arrival this week of an ICRC helicopter have enabled delegates to focus on the situation outside Dili. Thus the organization has set up an office in the town of Baucau. A relief delegate and a medical delegate have travelled to nearby Lospalos, where people are now trickling in from the mountains and back to their homes. They have found a wrecked city with a still fearful population in particular need of food and hygiene supplies. Medical delegate Vivike Heelsberg described the scene. " It was shocking when we arrived to see the smouldering ruins – you could still smell the smoke in the air. There is no great emergency now but people are in need of everything. Surprisingly, one of the biggest requests is for soap. "

A second team of delegates flew from Dili to Ainaro in the south, where they encountered a similar scene: virtually nothing had been left standing. A handful of people were in the streets and there were reports that many more were still hiding in the mountains. The town's hospital had been ransacked, then burnt to the ground. A lone doctor, who was attempting to cope with the needs of the entire community, told delegates that the only reason he had not joined his family in Baucau was that he no longer had a pair of shoes.

The delegates have delivered basic medical supplies to Ainaro and are planning a follow-up operation to provide townspeople with further relief and possibly bring serious medical cases to the ICRC hospital in Dili.

Lotte Lauper, who is supervising ICRC relief operations in the former Portuguese territory, said that the organization was doing its utmost to encourage people to return to their homes. " We want to see them settle back into their communities. That is the only way we can really help them during the uncertain times that lie ahead. "

In Dili itself and the surrounding district of Liquisa, the ICRC is continuing its distribution of food and other relief.