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Friday, September 17, 1999 Published at 19:13 GMT 20:13 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Timor refugees hiding in squalor

Many refugees are housed in makeshift camps

Hundreds of thousands of refugees have been hiding in the mountains of East Timor where they fled after the violence unleashed by pro-Indonesian militia.

As the Indonesian army began pulling out of the province, some of them are reported to have begun returning to what is left of their homes.

East Timor
But the fate of some 150,000 refugees housed in makeshift camps in West Timor still appears unclear.

Many of them were forced out of their homes in East Timor and relocated in tents along the border between East and West Timor.

Click here to see a map of the main refugee camps in East and West Timor

[ image:  ]
"Conditions in the makeshift camps are appalling," said UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski.

"There is no shelter, food or medicine. Water is a major problem. In such a situation there are deaths everyday among infants, the sick and elderly," he said.

Hunger and disease

For those refugees hiding in the mountains, conditions are even worse with many of them forced to scavenge for food.

[ image: Children are particularly vulnerable]
Children are particularly vulnerable
Aid agencies say many young children are under the threat of malnutrition and disease.

They are said to be particularly vulnerable to malaria, cholera, typhoid, measles and ear infections.

As some of the refugees trickled back into the towns of East Timor, many contemplated the violence that followed the vote for independence on 30 August.

"No one thought it would happen like this," said Bishop Basilio da Nascimento.

Others said they resisted all attempts to ship them out of the province.

[ image: They left clutching their possessions]
They left clutching their possessions
"I was born and want to die in East Timor," said Manuel Pinto, 80.

"The militia forced people to leave, but I don't want to move," he added.

Eduarda Menezes recalled her terror when she was forced to give birth to her daughter, Lucia, with pro-independence militia rampaging through Dili.

Lucia was born in the UN compound as her mother struggled through hours of labour with no doctor or midwife in attendance.

Her aunt Beatrice De Jesus helped in the delivery.

Ms Menezes and her husband fled to the UN compound when they were attacked by the militia.

The militiamen armed with machetes attacked their house and "we escaped through the back door" said her husband Albroa Mendonca.

[ image:  ]

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