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Tuesday, September 14, 1999 Published at 19:21 GMT 20:21 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Rescued refugees weep with relief

The refugees were exhausted when they arrived in Darwin

By Duncan Kennedy in Darwin

Eleven transport aircraft flights, organised by the Australian Air Force, took all day to ferry just under 1,500 refugees away from the besieged UN mission in the East Timorese capital, Dili.

Many arrived in Australia in a traumatised state. Doctors found cases of measles and chicken pox among some of the children.

Some of the women simply wept at the relief of getting out. Nizaria Fernandez was terrified as she left Dili.

"I felt like I was walking on a bridge, and down the bridge so many crocodiles here. So when I was in the aircraft I felt I was very, very free, " she said.

Security concerns

The UN says it closed its East Timor compound because of the problems of feeding the refugees and because of what it calls security concerns.

[ image: Ian Martin said the UN was not abandonning East Timor]
Ian Martin said the UN was not abandonning East Timor
The head of mission, Ian Martin, who was himself evacuated, denied that the UN was turning its back on East Timor. "The UN has not left East Timor, " he said. "A small group of a dozen United Nations staff are remaining at a different location, a base for expanding humanitarian action by United Nations agencies in East Timor."

The refugees who have reached Darwin are being looked after by doctors and aid workers in a new refugee camp.

Their future is now in the hands of an international peacekeeping force that is soon expected to be given the go-ahead to restore order to the lawless streets and gunmen of East Timor.

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