Surgical team expelled from East Timor

All MSF ex-pat staff recently based in East Timor are now safe in Darwin, Australia. The Dili staff were expelled previously.

The last MSF medical team - consisting of five people - present in East-Timor was expelled from Baukau by the militia today. According to our knowledge, no medical NGO is present anywhere in East-Timor.

This team has been present for a couple of weeks in the public hospital in the district of Baukau. The hospital serves a population of around 150,000.

MSF reactivated the surgical department which had not been functional for the last three years. All the district dispensaries have been closed. The essential health care services have not been operational for the last few weeks. Even when leaving, the medical conditions were that a lot of children with acute diarrhoea and deshydratation needed immediate emergency assistance.

MSF staff began running the hospital when the result of the referendum was announced over a week ago. All the hospital medical staff left immediately. MSF stayed behind to take care of the 20 remaining patients who were unable to leave, and to assure the treatment of new patients.

The tension in the city of Baukau increased drastically over the weekend and the militia became more and more present in the streets.

This afternoon, our team saw two groups of the militia descending from the mountains surrounding the area, shooting randomly in every direction. The team went to the UNAMET (United Nations Mission in East Timor) compound to find out what was happening. Just after their arrival in the UNAMET compound, everybody had to lay down on the floor as the militia started shooting at the compound, hitting several buildings.

The shooting stopped after 15 minutes. The army entered the compound and organised the transport of all the expatriate staff present in the compound to the airport of Baukau where they were expelled from the island.

The progress of this events which resulted in the expulsion is very similar to the assault of the ICRC compound in Dili on August 6 where two MSF expatriates had sought refuge together with 1400 civilians. Both of the events give the impression of being well planned. On both occasions the police and the army stayed completely inactive and passive.

In Dili, the militia systematically separated the Timor population from the expatriates. The expatriates were taken, with their hands up in the air, to the police station. Nobody yet knows what happened with to the civilian people left behind. The army provided trucks for the transport and the police transferred the expatriates to the airport. The militia, police force and army collaborated completely on this issue.

With the evacuation of our team from Baukau, there is no more presence of international staff able to provide emergency assistance or to witness what is happening in this part of the island. The expulsion of the MSF team can only be explained by the transition to a phase of extreme violence towards the population which voted in favour of independence.

Without the immediate and massive mobilisation of the international community, MSF thinks that the worst case scenario cannot be avoided. This is only a matter of hours.