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Tuesday, September 14, 1999 Published at 16:17 GMT 17:17 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Rescue mission for Timor refugees

More than 100,000 people face an uncertain future in West Timor

The United Nations has evacuated its compound in East Timor, leaving behind only about a dozen staff at another location in the territory.

East Timor
The empty headquarters is reported to have been torched by anti-independence militias.

More than 1,000 refugees sheltering in the compound also left in the emergency airlift by the Australian airforce. The operation was kept secret until the last moment.

The militias had been terrorising the UN compound as part of their campaign against the majority of East Timorese who voted for independence from Indonesia in the referendum two weeks ago.

Many of the first evacuees to arrive in Darwin, in northern Australia, wept and hugged aid workers as they reached safety after a week of terror.

Mass expulsions

The latest reports from East Timor suggest that the mass deportation of the population is continuing unabated.

The BBC's Humphrey Hawksley in West Timor: "Kupang is an unruly place at the best of times"
Eyewitnesses said tens of thousands of people were waiting on the main road leading to West Timor, where an estimated 130,000 refugees are already housed in camps.

Foreign diplomats say refugees in West Timor are still being targeted by militias, despite a pledge on Monday from a senior Indonesian army officer to end the attacks.

Click here for a map of the area

The systematic destruction of the East Timorese capital Dili is also reported to be proceeding, with truckloads of militiamen, usually accompanied by soldiers, looting homes and shops before destroying them.

Patrick Burgess, head of humanitarian affairs for the UN mission (Unamet), said the city had been completely devastated.

"Almost all buildings have been destroyed, no people are around, just a few mangy dogs," he said after arriving in Darwin.

Delay in airdrops

Klarna Fuik spokesman for Falantil
Earlier, a spokesman for the Timorese pro-independence guerrilla movement, Falantil, said refugees from militia and army violence in the territory were dying on a daily basis from lack of food and water.

Klarna Fuik said about 100,000 people were sheltering in mountain areas and appealed for urgent action to save lives.

[ image:  ]
However, uncertainty surrounds the start of aid airdrops to the territory.

The UN refugee agency has denounced the Indonesian military and police for failing to co-operate in organising the relief effort.

A UNHCR spokesman, Kris Janowski, told the BBC that although several planeloads of aid were on standby, local military officials and police had not given satisfactory security guarantees.

On Monday, the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, said Indonesia had agreed that the aid effort could begin.

BBC Correspondent Clive Myrie reports: "The UN had no alternative but to evacuate"
The UN had been hoping to maintain a significant presence in East Timor to work towards implementing the vote for independence.

Ian Martin, head of Unamet, said the UN was not abandoning the territory.

"The majority of our international staff and the small number of our local staff ... are on the flights coming out today, but Unamet has not left East Timor," he said.

Gearing up for intervention

[ image: Airlift: 16 planes are arriving in Darwin]
Airlift: 16 planes are arriving in Darwin
Hours after the evacuation, Indonesia's Asian neighbours committed themselves to significant roles in a UN peacekeeping operation in East Timor.

The Philippines said it was ready to send up to 500 troops as part of the 7,000-strong first contingent.

South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung is reportedly planning to ask parliament to approve the dispatch of some 300 crack troops as well as medical and engineering personnel.

Japan, Singapore and Thailand are willing to provide medical backup or logistics. China said it had not ruled out participation.

Australian troops and ships have already gathered in Darwin and the United States have said they will assist with logistics, intelligence and transportation.

'No conditions'

Indonesia said it would not seek to impose any conditions on the composition or deployment of the expected UN peacekeepers.

Speaking in New York, Foreign Minister Ali Alatas said: "I am open-minded. I am going to continue to discuss what this force will be, which countries will be represented in it and how fast it can come to Indonesia."

However, Jakarta insisted the peacekeepers should not arrive in East Timor for at least a week.

Members of the Indonesian Parliament are also objecting to Australian and New Zealand participation, saying that their support for the pro-independence movement will compromise their role.

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