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Update No. 99/03 on ICRC activities in Indonesia/East Timor

29-09-1999 Operational Update

 General situation  

Certain areas of Dili, Dare and Bacau are under the control of the International Force for East Timor (INTERFET) but much tension remains. Efforts are still underway to create the necessary environment throughout East Timor to reassure the civilian population that it is safe to come out of hiding. Militia action and violence continues in areas outside Dili, Dare and Bacau and in West Timor.

 Humanitarian response  

Whilst the prevailing security situation in East Timor is severely limiting the assistance operation, the ICRC team of 27 expatriate delegates (logisticians, medical personnel and water and sanitation experts) has been able to carry out some vital work in both Dili and Dare. For the time being, the team remains based in Dili's general hospital compound.

In West Timor, the joint ICRC/Pelang Merah Indonesia (PMI - Indonesian Red Cross Society) team of 20 people, including medical personnel, is continuing its work to alleviate the plight of the most needy in the Atambua and Kupang areas of West Timor.

Discussions with other humanitarian players are ongoing both at field and headquarters level in order to coordinate the relief effort. Various UN agencies and NGOs have arrived in East Timor.

 ICRC assistance activities  

 In East Timor  

- for the sick and wounded  

The Norwegian Red Cross field hospital has been set up at the civilian hospital in Dili. Its surgical component is now functioning (the equipment has been used to refurbish two operating theatres and the emergency room in the hospital and x-ray equipment has been installed) and it is hoped that the laboratory/pathology department will be set up by 30 September. The remainder of the material supplied with the field hospital will be mobilized at a later date. Although other medical operations are well into the planning stages, the ICRC facility is currently the only one capable of providing general hospital facilities in East Timor.

With the support of local staff, the expatriate team (surgeon, anaesthetist, general practitioner, medical administrator and five nurses) is treating four people evacuated by the ICRC from Dare, and injured people brought in by INTERFET troops. The team is treating 60 people in all, including 40 patients who were already in the hospital before the ICRC assumed responsibility there.

ICRC medical personnel visited the clinic in Dare (where an average of 50 people are seeking medical help on a daily basis) and delivered some medical items for paediatric care. Four seriously wounded people were evacuated to the civilian hospital in Dili for treatment by the ICRC surgical team.

A cause for concern is the substantial health risk arising from a number of corpses in Dili, some in an advanced state of decomposition, which have not yet been collected or identified. A procedure has now been put in place. INTERFET will collect the bodies and register and record their details. The ICRC is not involved in any form of enquiry and its participation is limited to assisting with transportation to either the mortuary or burial site and organizing a brief memorial service.

- for civilians  

Civilians are beginning to return to Dili in larger numbers. In one section of the town, between 3,000 and 5,000 people returned between 27 and 28 September, placing a significant strain on distribution networks. Four relief distribution points have now been identified and items will be distributed by a partnership of Church and local leaders.

Four field trips have been made to Dare area during the course of the last week, where some 60,000 people are in an extremely precarious situation. A limited amount of food assistance has been delivered in the form of high-protein biscuits. This was in an attempt to supplement the dwindling supplies of the most needy displaced people. Whilst stocks of fruit and vegetables are also coming to an end, many people expressed a need for supplies of rice. Shelter is not a critical problem for the time being but could become so within the next three weeks with the onset of the rainy season. Following discussions with INTERFET representatives and local community leaders, the ICRC has undertaken to truck supplies of water to several strategic points along the route between Dare and outlying areas where civilians have been seeking refuge in order to facilitate their journey back to the town.

Attempts are still being made to reach civilians in the Bacau area. A plane loaded with a land cruiser, medical aid and 3 mt rice, was unable to land at the airport there on 28 September because it proved impossible to establish radio contact on the ground. The plane was forced to return to its base in Dili but will make a further attempt today.

 In West Timor  

The ICRC/PMI team is continuing its work for the displaced people from East Timor lodged i n temporary camps. Needs remain great. All available ICRC relief items have been distributed but a plane from Surabaya will deliver 3 mt rice, jerry cans, cooking pots and tarpaulins today. From then on, regular airlifts of supplies will be made to Kupang for onward transport to Atambua.


The boat from Surabaya with 750 mt of food supplies and 50 mt non-food items, together with the boat from Darwin with the Norwegian Red Cross field hospital, trucks, non-food and water and sanitation material have all arrived in Dili. The boat from Surabaya will remain offshore to be unloaded as and when stocks are required.

 ICRC protection activities  

Thousands of families have been separated during the events of the last few weeks and have few possibilities of staying in touch with them -- or even finding them. The ICRC set up a tracing office in Dili on 28 September and has already collected 230 Red Cross messages from people anxious to contact their relatives who fled East Timor. Some have also been able to contact relatives abroad with the help of a satellite phone which they are able to use for a period of three-minutes. A tracing delegate will arrive in Kupang on 29 September to set up a plan of action for tracing and protection activities in West Timor.

Meetings have been held with various members of INTERFET, including the chief legal officer, with a view to obtaining access to people detained in relation to the troubles. As a result of these meetings, the ICRC visited four people on 26 September and a further 20 today.