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Thursday, September 2, 1999 Published at 07:05 GMT 08:05 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

BBC man: 'I'm lucky to be alive'

Video footage of Jonathan Head being kicked by militiamen

BBC correspondent Jonathan Head was caught up in the violence in East Timor. After witnessing a man being hacked to death outside the UN compound, he was chased and beaten himself by pro-Indonesian militias. The incident was captured on film by a crew from the American channel, CNN.

East Timor
The dirty war against East Timor's bid for independence has now come right up to the door of the United Nations. Automatic gunfire burst around the UN compound. As we cowered behind a pigsty, a man was beaten and hacked to death just outside the UN gate.

Suddenly there were militiamen running towards us from all directions, wielding machetes. They were screaming incoherently. There was no escape. We pleaded for our lives.

The BBC's Matt Frei reports on why Jonathan Head was attacked
Yet although we were beaten, we were spared the fate of the man whose body lay just across the road from us. They took us to a military post a few metres away where well-armed soldiers stood by, doing nothing to stop the mayhem all about them.

"We're not allowed to intervene," they said. "That's a job for the police." Police were nowhere to be seen. The man who'd beaten us stood chatting with the soldiers. Suddenly he came over to us.

[ image: Jonathan Head tried to escape the onslaught ...]
Jonathan Head tried to escape the onslaught ...
"I was angry and emotional," he said; "that's why I attacked you." It was an eerie moment. The man - who'd seemed on the point of killing us just a few minutes ago - offering to escort us to safety.

Several truck-loads of armed police did arrive about an hour later. Under the UN agreement they're supposed to guarantee security in East Timor. But they had few answers to what had gone wrong outside the UN headquarters.

Dangerous and aggressive though the militias are, there were only a few dozen of them.

[ image: But he was beaten with the end of a gun ...]
But he was beaten with the end of a gun ...
It ought to have been possible for the several thousand police in East Timor to prevent this incident.

In the Indonesian capital Jakarta they frequently use their guns on far less threatening opponents. But even when confronted by a UN police advisor, they allowed the chaos to continue.

[ image: And then led away to a military post]
And then led away to a military post
As he was speaking to them, the militias charged the police line. Heavily armed police officers just stood aside and let them through.

As we ran for our lives once again, I could see the UN policeman running just as hard ahead of me. It said everything about what's gone wrong with the UN mission that just a few days ago had offered such hope to the people of East Timor.

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