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Australia Doubles Aid to East Timor

03 July 2006

Australia is doubling its aid to East Timor to help meet the humanitarian needs of thousands of people internally displaced by recent violence. The announcement follows a warning from the United Nations that emergency supplies in the troubled Southeast Asian country are running dangerously low.

The Australia government says the additional $3 million in emergency aid will go to United Nations and non-government organizations to buy food, medicine and clothing for the East Timorese displaced by the recent unrest.

Canberra's offer follows a warning by the United Nations that not all international pledges of help have been honored.

As a result of the donor shortfall, supplies to the more than 140,000 people living in makeshift camps have had to be scaled back.

The U.N. estimates that malnutrition already affects 40 percent of East Timor's population. Tarek Elguidi of the U.N.'s World Food Program says that the cutbacks will make the crisis even worse.

"The situation is bad," he said. "You have to consider that even before the crisis the malnutrition rate is high. It's a chronic malnutrition. The poverty rate is quite high - is equal to one of the worst countries in Africa."

The violence that forced people to flee their homes was sparked in March when the government dismissed 600 soldiers, who had gone on strike complaining of discrimination.

There followed bloody clashes with forces loyal to the government of former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri. The bloodshed prompted a widespread eruption of gang violence, fueled by ethnic and regional differences.

The deployment of 2,500 peacekeepers from Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Portugal has largely restored stability.

But tensions remain and many of those forced to abandon their homes are still too afraid to return.

There are signs, however, that East Timor may be getting back to normal.

The parliament met Monday for the first time in weeks to discuss a budget and whether to waive immunity for ousted Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, who faces allegations of supplying weapons to civilian militias to eliminate his opponents. Mr. Alkatiri denies the allegations.

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