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Saturday, September 11, 1999 Published at 22:06 GMT 23:06 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Dili: Back to year zero

The sight that met the UN team as they flew into Dili

By the BBC's Matt Frei in Dili

A United Nations Security Council delegation visited East Timor on Saturday, where they reported evidence of mass atrocities, looting and wanton destruction.

The East Timorese capital, Dili, has been burned, looted and ransacked back to year zero.

East Timor
There was no sign of normal life. The streets were almost completely deserted but for some stray pigs and dogs.

Entire neighbourhoods have been reduced to ashes. Whole rows of houses burned down.

Jeremy Greenstock, the British ambassador at the United Nations, who is part of the mission, was profoundly shocked by what he saw.

Matt Frei views the devastation in Dili
"My personal reaction is one of even greater horror than I thought I was going to find," he said.

"There are people up in the hills there, there are people of course who have been killed and wounded, they're without food in the hills in the back of East Timor."

"The Indonesian Government is doing nothing about that, they're not yet allowing humanitarian organisations to come in."

There is no food anywhere in the city.

[ image: Everywhere, soldiers and piles of belongings]
Everywhere, soldiers and piles of belongings
Starvation is once again a big fear, especially for those thousands of pro-independence supporters who have had to take to the hills.

The pavements are strewn with loot, piles of boxes, refrigerators, television sets, sofas, thousands of plastic chairs, even a grand piano.

The only civilians we saw or were allowed to see by the Indonesian army were pro-Indonesian supporters.

Many of them were militiamen and their families from nearby towns and villages.

They had turned the police station, where the votes of the historic referendum were counted only a week ago, into a squalid refugee camp.

[ image: Much of Dili has been razed to the ground]
Much of Dili has been razed to the ground
But perhaps the most moving scenes were in the besieged UN compound where 80 tired and pale UN staff are clinging on to a mission that has been reduced to one aim alone; to protect the thousand or so East Timorese refugees who have taken shelter there under terrible conditions.

The UN staff will not leave unless the refugees can travel with them.

I saw a mother of seven who broke down in tears.

She had lost her husband and her newborn baby in the woods.

Their house had been burned down and she was pleading with the UN staff not to leave.

[ image: Most buildings were set ablaze in the violence]
Most buildings were set ablaze in the violence
Another woman clung on to a UN delegate when the mission prepared to return to the airport.

"We are all waiting to die," she told us, pointing to the hills above the compound where the soldiers and militiamen sat like crows against the late afternoon sky, their guns ready but silent.

Amid all this drama, fear and dwindling hope, the Indonesian chief of staff, General Wiranto, also on a visit to Dili, made a surprise announcement.

We will consider the option of UN peacekeepers, he told us, in a reversal of yesterday's policy.

[ image: Will violence resume after the visit?]
Will violence resume after the visit?
He did not specify when or how or under what conditions, but General Wiranto himself was clearly shocked by the destruction that he saw today.

At one stage he even tacitly admitted that his soldiers may have acted incorrectly.

However, if it is a new policy it cannot change the overriding fact that in just seven days Dili has been wasted.

Over 120,000 people have become refugees and, according to the army's own statistics, only 27 militiamen have been arrested by a total of 15,000 Indonesian soldiers.

As we left driving past the evidence of this orgy of violence the soldiers laughed and grinned.

The militiamen, some of them still armed, glared at us from the street.

The violence had been switched off during our visit but tomorrow promises to be another day of terror.

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