/** reg.easttimor: 3274.0 **/
** Topic: Shocked UN Team Finds E.Timor Countryside Eerily Deserted **
** Written 12:31 AM Sep 26, 1999 by Joyo@aol.com in cdp:reg.easttimor **
Subject: Shocked UN Team Finds E.Timor Countryside Eerily Deserted
Excerpt: For the first 30 miles, not a single person could be seen in an eerily deserted landscape. The convoy passed 11 villages and settlements, most almost entirely destroyed by fire, before encountering the first people at the town of Manatuto.
Reuters, 12.47 a.m. ET (456 GMT) September 26, 1999
Shocked UN Team Finds E.Timor Countryside Deserted
BAUCAU, East Timor ¨ A U.N. humanitarian team that drove along East Timor's northern coastline Saturday found a country almost entirely devoid of people, raising fears that many more may have been deported than previously thought.
The team of experts, escorted by six armored personnel carriers and three helicopters, took four and a half hours to travel along the twisting 80-mile road from Dili to East Timor's second biggest city, Baucau.
For the first 30 miles, not a single person could be seen in an eerily deserted landscape. The convoy passed 11 villages and settlements, most almost entirely destroyed by fire, before encountering the first people at the town of Manatuto.
Hundreds of thousands of Timorese have fled into the hills, driven from their homes by a bloody campaign of murder and arson by military-backed anti-independence militias in the wake of East Timor's overwhelming vote to break from Indonesia.
The aid workers were shocked to find so few had come home.
"My first thought is that there are more people who have been forcibly deported from East Timor than had been anticipated,'' Gilbert Greenall, a British government aid expert seconded to the U.N. in East Timor, told Reuters.
"If it turns out that 100,000 people are missing, that's going to be very, very difficult to explain away.''
"WHERE ARE THE PEOPLE?''
Dr Heidi Quinn, a medical aid specialist with France's Medicins Sans Frontieres, said: "I was just surprised how deserted it was. There were no people until Manatuto. Where are the people? Are they all in the hills?''
The United Nations has estimated that around 150,000 East Timorese were forcibly taken to West Timor after the territory voted for independence on August 30. Up to half a million more were believed to have fled into the hills.
But Saturday, as the United Nations made its first land trip outside Dili since U.N. forces arrived Monday, the team passed village after village where not a soul could be seen.
In Manatuto, the convoy was greeted with jubilation by a crowd of around 200 locals. Young men reached up to shake the hands of Australian soldiers and a British army major was virtually mobbed as he shook hands with town officials.
The crowd shouted "Freedom! Freedom!'' and "Viva East Timor!,'' their celebrations delaying the departure of the convoy.
One man in Manatuto, resident Tomas Carceres said there were still about 3,000 local people hiding in the hills under the protection of Falintil independence guerrillas.
The town used to have a population of around 9,000.
There did not, however, appear to be a shortage of food ¨ all along the road from Dili to Baucau crops were ripening and goats, pigs, chickens and water buffalo roamed freely.
"If I had to go through my mind and say what is my principal anxiety, it is not the normal things,'' Greenall said. "It is the question ¨ where are the people?''
Greenall, who has also made aerial reconnaissance missions, said no major groups of people hiding had been found.
"We have not found any camps with 50,000 people in them, so the situation has lots of pluses but some very sinister minuses,'' he said.
The convoy arrived at the airbase in Baucau at dusk, just in time to see the last Indonesian military plane leave. The airfield, which can take big cargo planes, is to be used as a base to distribute aid around a large section of the territory.
** End of text from cdp:reg.easttimor **