MSF reiterates its medical mandate and remains in East Timor

East Timor - Up to 17,000 people have crossed the border in West Timor since recent activities broke out. According to the ICRC, there were 300 people per hour crossing the border on Sunday (September 5). For the most part, the people crossing the border are Indonesian civil servants and their families. They are travelling in cars and buses.

Communications in the country is becoming increasingly difficult. Telephone lines are saturated 24-hours a day and so getting an open line to establish contact is increasingly difficult.

MSF staff in East Timor is able to operate from a satellite phone system.

The MSF team in Dili, consisting of two ex-pat staff, moved to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) compound yesterday morning for security reasons. There had been several minutes of sustained shooting next to the ICRC compound last night. There are approximately 800 Timorese living in the compound as well.

This morning, the militia forced their way into the compound and all ex-pats had to be evacuated to a police station and then to the airport where they are being evacuated with Australian army support.

In Baukau, the situation is very tense. The control that the militias have borders on anarchy. There was shooting at the UNAMET compound on September 5 where the MSF staff were present with five people (surgeon, anaesthetist, scrub nurse, post surgery nurse and administrative staff member).

Shops closed on Saturday and Sunday but some reopened today. By and large, people are staying inside.

In the early hours (September 6), there were two emergency call-outs. One was a gunshot to the abdomen, the second a non-conflict emergency.

From field accounts, the MSF team does not feel directly threatened by the militia right now. There seems to be an awareness that MSF is non-UN and in the country with a medical mandate. The medical nature of MSF was emphasized with a UNAMET Civpol meeting on September 5.

The team remains in the same living quarters but has prepared the hospital with beds and food supplies should the conditions change radically and the staff have to make an immediate move.