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Tuesday, September 28, 1999 Published at 17:49 GMT 18:49 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Destruction on the way to Baucau

UN vehicles brought in for the referendum have been wrecked by the militias

The BBC's Robin Denselow follows the international peacekeeping troops on the dangerous road from Dili to Baucau.

This is the first time the UN had ventured by land outside the immediate Dili area and the Australian troops were clearly apprehensive

East Timor
The convoy moved cautiously down the deserted coast road leading east.

Alan Matthews, who heads the British Government's emergency logistics team explained to me why this mission was vital:

"It is the first place that I've seen that is almost totally destroyed. Hardly any buildings are untouched. There is no power and no water. I've been to the power station and that also has been badly damaged."

[ image:  ]
Just a few local people had dared to come back from the hills. UN troops peered down on men armed with just bows and arrows.

The UN had stationed a British liaison officer, John Petri, in the town during the independence referendum. Now he was back. And he was mobbed.

We saw no sign of the militias that had caused the damage, and at dusk, after covering another 40 miles of deserted countryside we reached the vast military airstrip of Baucau.

Robin Denselow reports for Newsnight from the advance party of Australian troops
Two companies of Australian and Phillipino soldiers had flown in here three days earlier but had not moved beyond the airport. Their priority was to provide security, not check on the needs of the local people.

They had been keeping an eye on the Indonesian forces stationed here, and now, at last, were pulling out. None of this stopped the continuing military build up in Baucau. Hercules transport planes were flying in to be unloaded by the Phillipino troops.

[ image: Night sights are vital on patrol]
Night sights are vital on patrol
While out on the perimeter, Australian soldiers, using night vision equipment were on patrol.

They had not yet been down to the town of Baucau, but they could see it was in flames.

At dawn we saw the first signs of the destruction caused by the militias and the Indonesian military.

UN landrovers brought in for the referendum mission last month had been left behind and wrecked. The hospital had been attacked and equipment smashed. And at the warehouse, 300 tonnes of rice had been removed by the soldiers overnight.

Independece flags could be openly paraded at last and the Indonesian flag burnt.

[ image: Robin Denselow reporting from Baucau]
Robin Denselow reporting from Baucau
They sang the anthem of the Falantil guerillas who fought fo independence since the Indonesian invasion back in 1975. "We are in the forest seeking for freedo," they chanted.

This is the most euphoric demonstration we have seen in the week since the UN troops first arrived here. Here, at least, there is a feeling that the militias have fled and a new country is being born.

But now the people are daring to come from their hiding places in the hills, there will be pressure on the Australian troops to come here to guard them.

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