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Timor-Leste: Malnutrition among displaced children

Timor-Leste: UNICEF reports malnutrition among children displaced by violence

Initial checks on children in makeshift camps for displaced persons in Timor-Leste today indicated that 15 per cent need immediate treatment for malnutrition after violence ripped through the small South-East Asian nation, driving more than 155,000 people, 15 per cent of the total population, from their homes.

As UN envoys continued their efforts to calm tensions and plan for a possible expanded UN police force in the country which the world body shepherded to independence from Indonesia just four years ago, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) launched a campaign to screen all the estimated 10,000 children under the age of five living in 66 camps in Dili, the capital.

The Agency examined 300 children at the Dom Bosco Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp, one of the largest, and turned up 45 malnourished children for medical care, five of whom were sent directly to hospitals, although there is no overall food shortage.

The camp houses 14,000 people who fled their homes in the crisis, which erupted in late April with the dismissal of 600 soldiers, a third of the armed forces. At least 37 people were killed in ensuing violence, attributed to differences between eastern and western regions.

UNICEF teams use a simple strip to measure the mid-upper arm circumference of the children. Those who appear to be malnourished have their weight and height taken as confirmation. Those whose weight for height percentage has fallen below 85 per cent are referred to the doctors for further checks.

The Ministry of Labour and Community Re-Insertion and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) have distributed enough rations for everyone at the camps – from rice, corn-soy blend, oil to sugar. WFP said it has held cooking demonstrations to show parents how to make use of the fortified corn-soy blend.

On the political front, Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Envoy Ian Martin continued his rounds of meetings with the political leaders in his dual role of planning for the next state of UN aid and lending his good offices to help to resolve of crisis.

At the moment a military and police force from Australia, New Zealand, Portugal and Malaysia, invited in by the Government, is helping to keep order, but Mr. Annan has said it is obvious that the UN will have to go back “in a much larger form than we are at the moment.”

The world body first set up the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) in 1999 after the country voted for independence from Indonesia, which had taken it over at the end of Portugal’s colonial rule in 1974. Mr. Martin was Mr. Annan's Special Representative in the territory then. This robust structure was kept until independence in 2002, when UNTAET was replaced with a downsized operation, the UN Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET).

This in turn was succeeded by the current, even smaller UN office in Timor-Leste (UNOTIL), which has a mandate through 20 August. The Security Council has asked Mr. Annan to report back on a possible expanded UN presence in the country by early August.

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