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Monday, September 20, 1999 Published at 03:18 GMT 04:18 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

British troops in vanguard of Timor force

Gurkha soldiers: East Timor is their latest mission

The first British troops have arrived in East Timor among the vanguard of the multinational force seeking to end atrocities by anti-independence militias.

East Timor
An Australian Hercules C-130 transport plane touched down in Dili at about 0040 GMT (0140 BST) on Monday carrying 30 Royal Marines, 20 Australian troops and large amounts of equipment.

The Marines are believed to be members of the elite Special Boat Squadron (SBS), the maritime equivalent of the SAS.

They will be joined later on Monday by about 250 Gurkhas.

The BBC's Angus Roxburgh: "The beginning of the end of Indonesian rule in East Timor"
About 25 Indonesian army troops met the peacekeepers at Dili airport but there was no sign of the militias and all seemed calm in the city.

Numerous Hercules planes have been landing at Dili and then returning to Darwin. About 2,000 international troops, arriving by air and sea, are expected in East Timor by the end of Monday.

The BBC's Jonathan Head in Dili: "Indonesians have bad memories of their colonial past"
BBC correspondent Jonathan Head says Indonesia is sensitive about its colonial past - the island of Timor was ruled by the Netherlands and Portugal for hundreds of years - and the sight of Asian faces among the multinational force will be welcome.

Thousands are homeless

[ image: The Ministry of Defence refuses to say if the Marines are SBS men]
The Ministry of Defence refuses to say if the Marines are SBS men
The International Force for East Timor (Intefet) has been given the task of taking over control of East Timor from Indonesian troops, who failed to prevent a murderous rampage by pro-Jakarta militias following the referendum on autonomy.

Thousands of Timorese were killed by the militias - who were composed of settlers from other parts of Indonesia - and more than 300,000 people driven from their homes.

Armed Forces Minister John Spellar: "It's a dangerous environment, but so far so good"
The Australian-led ground troops will be supported by nine heavily armed warships including the British guided missile destroyer HMS Glasgow.

One of the main jobs for the Gurkhas will be to secure UN buildings from further attacks by the militias.

The Gurkhas, who hail from Nepal, are a legendary fighting force and a legacy of the British Empire.

[ image: The Gurkhas' traditional weapon is the lethal kukri]
The Gurkhas' traditional weapon is the lethal kukri
Their motto, Better to die than be a coward, has been backed up by their performance in numerous campaigns, from World War I and II to Malaya, Borneo, Cyprus, the Falklands and most recently Kosovo, where one of their men was killed by an unexploded Allied bomb.

Apart from ordinary, modern weapons they carry the traditional kukri knife. In times past, it was said once a kukri had been drawn in battle, it must "taste blood" - if not, its owner has to cut himself before returning it to its sheath.

Now it is used mainly for cooking, but a Gurkha soldier in Macedonia told reporters recently: "When the ammunition runs out we still use them."

In the 185 years they have served in the British Army, they have won 26 Victoria Crosses, more than any other single group in the army.

In 1815 the British East India Company signed a peace deal with the stubbornly resisting Gurkhas, which allowed it to recruit from their midst.

Since then, the Gurkhas have loyally fought for the British all over the globe, and their British officers are taught the Gurkhali language.

For many years they were based in Hong Kong but when the colony was handed back to China in 1997 they moved to Church Crookham in Hampshire.

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