East Timor: Humanitarian Emergency and International Assistance
CRS Report for Congress
East Timor: Humanitarian Emergency and
Lois B. McHugh
Foreign Affairs Analyst
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Following a vote for independence from Indonesia on August 30, violence and
property destruction by anti-independence militias forced many East Timorese from their
homes.1 Failure by the Indonesian military to contain the violence finally forced the
Indonesian government to allow international intervention. INTERFET, the U.N.
international force for East Timor began arriving the weekend of September 18 and
humanitarian workers came with them. The humanitarian programs are still evolving as
the population begins to return, and reconstruction needs are still being assessed. This
short report provides background on the crisis, looks at the assistance needs, and the
U.S. response. It will be updated as the situation develops.2
After voting by approximately 80% to 20% for independence from Indonesia, East
Timor was wracked by violence at the hands of East Timorese militia who are supporters
of continued Indonesian rule and are reportedly armed and trained by the Indonesian
military. By September 28, the bulk of the Indonesian military forces had left East Timor
with the last forces leaving on October 31 after the vote for independence was accepted
by the Indonesian legislature. The security situation is still difficult due to continuing
militia activity, particularly in western East Timor, which shares a border with West Timor,
1For information on this crisis, see CRS report RS20332, East Timor Crisis: U.S. Policy and
Options. For information on the U.S. military role, see CRS Issue Brief 94040, Peacekeeping:
Issues of U.S. Military Involvement.
2This report draws on information from several web sites which provide daily updates on the
situation in East Timor. These include web sites of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees
(www.unhcr.ch/news/media/timor/latest.htm) and the United Nation’s Relief Web
(www.reliefweb.int). U.S. assistance reports, voluntary agency activities, press coverage, and U.N.
situation reports are all available on the Reliefweb site.
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
a province of Indonesia,. The U.N. peace restoration force (INTERFET) has 9,300
military personnel from 16 countries as of November 2. INTERFET began its activities in
Dili, the capital of East Timor, and expanded its authority throughout the area, with a final
push into the isolated territory of Ambeno on October 22. (A map of East Timor is
available at www.un.org/ peace/etimor.htm)
Most of the East Timor population has been displaced. About 80,000 East Timorese
are still unaccounted for, according to the head of INTERFET, Major Peter Cosgrove.
He reported on November 3 that between 220,000 and 250,000 are in West Timor and
about 40,000 are on other islands which are provinces of Indonesia. About 334,000 have
been accounted for in East Timor and an estimated 100,000 are in areas of East Timor not
yet searched by INTERFET. Refugee repatriation began with airlifts on October 8 from
Kupang in far western West Timor and several thousand have returned to East Timor by
foot across the border. These returns have been described by U.N. officials as the easy
repatriations, people living in government camps, churches, or on their own. Those who
remain in West Timor are in camps controlled by the militias and they have very little
contact with the relief agencies. Some of the East Timorese in these camps are among
the minority who voted against independence. But many seem to have been forced out of
East Timor by the militias against their wishes and remain in camps where the militia
intimidate and assault both the East Timorese and the international workers trying to aid
them. Indonesian officials say that about 178,000 East Timorese remain in West Timor.
UNHCR and other humanitarian aid groups express great concern for the fate of these
East Timorese. Indonesia has agreed to transport humanitarian aid to both East and West
Timor and to allow U.N. monitors to accompany the food shipments, but access to the
East Timorese remains difficult. The government is also registering the refugees to
ascertain whether they want to return to East Timor. UNHCR has protested the
government run registration program, the slowness of the return of the refugees, the lack
of Indonesian control over the militia, and the slowness of the government in allowing
humanitarian assistance to get to the refugees.
U.N. officials estimate that as many as 80,000 people have returned to Dili, and that
a total of 334,000 persons are currently in East Timor. Nearly 42,000 have returned to
East Timor from West Timor or other areas. Over 100,000 city and rural residents are
estimated to be in areas still only partly controlled by INTERFET. Humanitarian workers
are searching for them as INTERFET secures each area. INTERFET and U.N. agencies
are working to get hospitals, schools and public utilities restarted. Some economic activity
is occurring but most food is being supplied by international aid. General food distribution
began October 4.
The province of Ambeno is a special area of concern. It is part of East Timor but
physically separated from it and surrounded by West Timor. When INTERFET forces
were finally allowed to enter the territory by the Indonesian government on October 22,
they found that the enclave had been looted extensively and few of the 60,000 people who
lived there remained. Since then, about 9,000 people have entered Oekussi. These are not
former residents, but persons displaced from the countryside by continuing militia activity.
INTERFET believes that most of the citizens of Ambeno are being sheltered in private
homes just outside the enclave in West Timor. They expect these East Timorese to return
when the border is reopened by Indonesian authorities.
Humanitarian Aid Needs
Because of destruction of homes, crops, and farmland, WFP estimates that 740,000
of a total East Timor population of 890,000 will need food aid over the next 6 months.
Relief agencies are working against the clock to replace food supplies and housing
materials before the rainy season arrives, closing many of the rural roads to truck traffic.
A damage assessment by a joint United Nations/ private voluntary agency team estimates
that 75 percent of East Timorese were displaced and 70 percent of private residences,
public buildings and essential utilities were destroyed. On October 27, the U.N. Office for
the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) published an interagency appeal for
$199 million for humanitarian aid to East Timorese in both East and West Timor through
June 30, 2000. The appeal includes $73 million for refugee return and reintegration
(including shelter), $33 million for food aid, $35 million for health, water and sanitation,
and $20 million for infrastructure and economic recovery. Both the summary and the full
text of the appeal are available on the OCHA website:
www.reliefweb.int/ocha_ol/index.html. The United Nations placed East Timor under U.N.
administration on October 26. The U.N. Administration, including 8,900 troops, 1,640
police, and additional military advisors and civilian administrators will cost up to $1 billion
the first year. The new U.N. entity, UNTAET, will replace INTERFET, and will help East
Timor in its transition to independence over the next three years. On October 27, the
World Bank announced plans to create a trust fund for East Timor to assist the new
country in long term reconstruction and incentives for private enterprise and investment.
A World Bank assessment mission began on October 29.
The United States has provided aid from the
Figure U.S. Assistancebeginning of the emergency through a variety of3
(in millions U.S. $)government humanitarian assistance channels.
Through November 4, 1999, the aid totals
DOD1.86$21,813,744. The attached table shows the
USAID OFDA3.59breakdown of the aid by agency. The USAID Food for
Peace (FFP) aid consists of commodities. The
USAID bilat. 1.30Department of Defense provided HDRs or ready to eat
USAID FFP9.97meals and transportation of humanitarian aid. TheDepartment of State and USAID aid consists primarily
State Dept.5.10of cash grants to U.N. and private voluntary agencies.
Source: U.S. AID
3Information on the emergency, including USAID OFDA daily situation reports, is available on line