Surgical Team Leaves East Timor

New York/Brussels, September 7, 1999 — The last medical team of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) present in East Timor has been expelled from the district of Baukau by the militia today. To the best of our knowledge, there are no longer any international medical aid agencies still present in East Timor.

For the past two weeks, the five-person MSF team has worked in Baukau's public hospital, which serves a population of around 150,000. MSF had reopened the hospital's surgical department which had not been functioning for the past three years. All of the clinics in Baukau have been closed and essential health care services have not been operational for many weeks. The team reports that there are many children with acute diarrhea and dehydration who are in need of immediate emergency assistance.

When the result of the referendum on East Timor's independence was announced over the weekend, all the medical staff of the hospital left immediately. MSF stayed behind to take care of the 20 remaining patients who were unable to leave and ensure treatment of new incoming patients. Tension in the city of Baukau increased drastically over the weekend and the militia became more and more present in the streets. Today, the army entered the United Nations compound in Baukmau where the team had taken refuge, and organized the transport of all foreign staff present in the compound to the airport of Baukau where they were expelled from the island.

The events that led to the expulsion are very similar to the assault on the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) compound in Dili on September 6 where two MSF international volunteers had sought refuge together with 1,400 civilians. Both of the events give the impression of being planned in advance. In Dili, the militia also systematically separated the Timor population from the expatriates.

With the evacuation of our team from Baukau, there is no longer any international medical staff able to provide emergency assistance or to witness what is happening in this part of the island.

MSF is the world's largest independent international medical relief agency aiding victims of armed conflict, epidemics, and natural and man-made disasters, and others who lack health care due to geographic remoteness or ethnic marginalization in more than 80 countries.