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Timor’s childhood under threat

Young nation faces complex emergency situation

DILY, 29 May 2006 – Ongoing ethnic and political tensions in Timor-Leste have escalated into large-scale civil unrest in Dili, with the districts practically cut off and isolated from the capital city.  As people flee the conflict, children's lives are being uprooted.

After 24 years of occupation by Indonesia and independence restored only in 2002, Timor-Leste has slowly gained ground with its efforts to offer a decent quality of living for its people. But there have been serious setbacks to this process in the last few weeks due to the civil unrest triggered by conflict between its political leaders, factional fighting between police and soldiers and has been by ethnic and political issues.

A mass exodus of the population began in early May when rumors of attacks, particularly in the capital city of Dili, spread through the population. Over the last few weeks, the numbers have swelled and now nearly 50 camps across the country hold 60,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs). An unknown number of IDPs are living with relatives and friends in the districts.

In Dili alone, there are about 30,000 people gathered in different places like churches and schools. There is an urgent need for UN agencies, bi-lateral and multi-lateral agencies and international NGOs to prioritise support in almost all areas for IPDs and provide food, water, shelter, sanitation and safe spaces and activities for children. UNICEF has been providing support in the area of water and sanitation and, with PLAN International, has been organizing child protection groups within these camps.

As the unrest comes to an end and people return to their homes and lives, support is needed to ensure that the pieces that they left behind and the memories that they hold are dealt with properly. For now Timor’s childhood continues to be under threat.

Background: The mass movement of people out of Dili was triggered by rumours of impending violence and attacks in the city due to differences between some factions from the east and the west of this small island nation. This followed closely on the heels of violence that erupted on 28 April 2006, when an initially peaceful demonstration by the sacked soldiers in Timor’s army, turned chaotic. As a result, the Timorese people, with memories of the 1999 post-referendum conflict still fresh on their minds, decided to flee to the safety of the hills and their hometowns in the districts. These sites, which were mainly schools or churches, are overcrowded and lack proper sanitation and safe water. Many of the Timorese have also returned to their land and families in the districts, thus increasing their vulnerability to diseases, food insecurity and abuse and exploitation.

About UNICEF: For 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 155 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

For more information, please contact:

Shui-Meng Ng, Representative, UNICEF, Timor-Leste
Tel: +670 723 1097
Email: sng@unicef.org

Madhavi Ashok, Communication Officer, UNICEF, Timor-Leste
Tel: +670 723 1103
Email: mashok@unicef.org




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