/** reg.easttimor: 3833.0 **/
** Topic: Tortuous negotiations with Indon blocks food for starving **
** Written 9:54 AM Sep 16, 1999 by Joyo@aol.com in cdp:reg.easttimor **
Subject: Tortuous negotiations with Indon blocks food for starving
Sydney Morning Herald Friday, September 17, 1999
Deadlock blocks food for starving
By LAUREN MARTIN in Canberra
Tortuous negotiations with Indonesia over security last night looked set to delay Australia's distribution of desperately needed food to thousands of starving East Timorese refugees until after the peacekeeping force arrives.
But the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) said it might go ahead on Monday - with or without a ground team - using a technique called snow-dropping to scatter thousands of small food parcels over a wide area.
The technique is much more expensive than traditional food-drop methods, and involves each flight dropping 35,000 individual plastic packages, each containing 200 grams of high-energy biscuits - about 900 calories.
It is considered safer than dropping big cartons, which have sometimes injured people on the ground and have also been the cause of conflict over the division and distribution of the contents.
The 900-calorie vitamin and mineral-fortified biscuits make up half of a daily energy requirement.
"It is impossible for the time being to go inside Timor because of security conditions," a WFP spokeswoman, Ms Christiane Berthiaume, said from Geneva last night.
"Usually we drop huge 50-kilogram bags of cereal, and you need people on the ground to manage and distribute that. It's awfully dangerous and complex. This will be the first time we do the snow-drop."
The packages are shaped into two "wings" which help them float and spiral down to a soft landing.
A specially chartered C-130 cargo plane is en route from Johannesburg with the equipment to deliver more than 70 tonnes of biscuits.
The WFP plans to make 10 flights, each dropping 35,000 biscuit packages.
"Contrary to the big bags, with this snow-drop we disperse the packages so it will be easier for people to go out and pick up the food," Ms Berthiaume said. "This cuts down on the extent people have to expose themselves to the militia. It is still a risk but much less so."
Snow-drops were also safer for the pilot and the aircraft, she said, because they operated from a much higher altitude than traditional food drops.
"The higher you get, the less precise you may be, but it is more safe for the pilots."
The Australian Government is still negotiating with the Indonesians for security clearance before allowing an RAAF aircraft to deliver any separate, traditional food drops.
Earlier, the Prime Minister had said he expected these would be able to take off before today. However, last night, after several missed deadlines, neither Mr Howard nor the Defence Minister, Mr Moore, was able to give any indication of when the security deadlock with Indonesia might be resolved.
** End of text from cdp:reg.easttimor **