Archived page: may contain outdated information!
  • Send page
  • Print page

Update No. 99/01 on ICRC activities in Indonesia/East Timor

17-09-1999 Operational Update

 General situation  

The increased violence in East Timor this year spiralled further out of control when the results of the autonomy/independence vote were announced on 3 September. Civilians have been actively targeted in the repression, intimidation and killing. Thousands have been forced to leave their homes. Though reports vary, it is estimated that between 150,000 and 200,000 people have fled into West Timor (particularly around Atambua), whilst others have gone to other islands in the archipelago. An indeterminate number of people have sought safety in the hilly interior of East Timor itself. The full extent of the destruction of both public and private property in East Timor is as yet unknown but reports from the capital, Dili, suggest the widescale depredation of infrastructure.

 Humanitarian response  

 International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement  

The ICRC is currently the only international humanitarian organization with a presence in both East and West Timor . The organization was in the midst of strengthening its capacity to respond to health and relief needs in the region as the latest violence took hold. As announced in the Budget Extension Appeal for the Jakarta regional delegation (2 July 1999), it was establishing a central logistics unit, pre-positioning and dispatching emergency stocks and creating a mobile response u nit capable of responding to needs throughout Indonesia in conjunction with the Pelang Merah Indonesia (PMI - Indonesian Red Cross Society). Although there was not enough time to complete all elements of the plan, the availability of some pre-positioned resources has already proved invaluable in the West Timor operation. In East Timor, part of the stock which had already been stored in warehouses in Dili has fortunately so far been spared. This facilitates the ability to provide a rapid response.

Various other components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement are already working to ease the suffering of the victims of the situation in East Timor. The Norwegian Red Cross is currently putting together the material for a field hospital which should be deployed as part of the ICRC operation within the coming week. For its part, the Darwin branch of the Australian Red Cross has been instrumental in welcoming both the evacuated expatriate ICRC staff and civilian evacuees, providing health care and additional support.

 Coordination with other agencies  

Links have been established with other humanitarian players both at field and headquarters level in an attempt to coordinate the relief effort as far as possible. Amongst those involved in discussions at the moment are the World Food Programme, Ausaid, Medecins Sans Frontières and Medecins du Monde. The ICRC is a member of the task force created by OCHA in Geneva.

 ICRC response to the current situation: ongoing activities and priorities in the near future  


The ICRC strives to ensure that both resident and displaced civilians receive the protection that is du e to them under international humanitarian law. In the coming weeks, delegates will be assessing the living conditions of the civilian population and its means of subsistence, and analyzing cases of violations of humanitarian law.

Thousands of families have been separated during the events of the last few weeks. Another important component of protection activities will therefore be handling tracing requests and restoring family links.

 In West Timor  

A joint ICRC/PMI team of 20 people, including medical personnel, has been working to alleviate the plight of the most needy displaced people in the Atambua area of West Timor since 8 September. This has included the distribution of sarongs, blankets, mattresses, plastic sheeting and jerry cans. During the course of assessments in 11 refugee camps, the team noted difficult access to safe drinking water, insufficient latrines and a precarious hygiene situation. There have been some cases of malaria, skin diseases and diarrhoea. Local health structures are finding it difficult to cope with the influx of people and have insufficient supplies and personnel to deal with the crisis.

The security situation in the border zone has been very poor and the fate of two ICRC employees from East Timor who were abducted earlier in the week is still unknown.

The ICRC is arranging for the procurement of food and non-food assistance for a further 50,000 people.

 In East Timor  

Two expatriate delegates are currently in Dili, having received the necessary authorization from the military to enable a return. (In all, 11 expatriate staff were forcibly ejected from the ICRC office there on 6 September and ordered aboard a plane to Darwin.) Upon their arri val on 14 September, the two delegates were able to distribute a token amount of assistance from the limited supplies they were able to bring with them. The non-food items which are still in the warehouse in Dili will be distributed to displaced people in Dare, south of Dili, on Saturday 18 September.

The delegates had intended to carry out a survey in order to identify a plan of action for East Timor but travel outside the capital itself is proving practically impossible due to the prevailing security situation. They are establishing contacts with the Indonesian military authorities and assessing the work necessary to restore an operational base in the capital in anticipation of the return of a full team.

It is too early at this stage to detail precise distribution points but the ICRC is currently pre-positioning stocks and planning for the distribution of food for 50,000 people and non-food for 100,000 people. A first consignment will be shipped this weekend and is due to reach Dili on Friday 24 September. The amount of assistance and distribution plan will be adapted according to needs as they are assessed on the spot and in coordination with other agencies. 

 Sick and wounded  

Whilst the full extent of the damage to infrastructure is as yet unknown, the worst is feared as to the state of East Timor's health centres and hospitals. A survey of the Dili civilian hospital showed that 37 patients were present and being treated by a small staff of nurses. Most of the medical equipment has gone and the hospital was badly in need of medicines. An initial amount of assistance was delivered immediately.

The Norwegian Red Cross is on standby with a field hospital for deployment in East Timor within the next week. It essentially consists of equipment and material to treat surgical, medical, paediatric and gynaecology patients on both an out-patient and in-patient basis. The hospital has the capacity to remain self-sufficient in terms of supplies for a four to six-week period.


The logistical set-up for the humanitarian relief operation is already proving complicated. All ICRC activities will be coordinated from Jakarta whilst the main bases in West and East Timor will be Kupang and Dili respectively. Though the ICRC has been granted permission to use the airport in Dili itself at an allocated time slot each day, this is likely to prove difficult in practice given the anticipated amount of air traffic with the arrival of UN forces and agencies in the coming days. Sea freight is also being used. Presently an ICRC plane flies to Dili and Kupang from Surabaya.