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Tuesday, September 21, 1999 Published at 20:35 GMT 21:35 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Timor security 'weeks away'

Interfet troops have disarmed and detained militiamen

The commander of the multinational force now moving into East Timor has warned that it will take some time to ensure the whole territory is secure.

East Timor
"It will still be a number of weeks rather than days before we are in a position to have a pervasive presence," said Major-General Peter Cosgrove, the Australian commander of the International Force in East Timor (Interfet).

"It's too early for us to assert that the security situation is anything near approaching benign," he added.

The BBC's Ben Brown reports: "The refugees know they have to be patient"
Shortly after those remarks, two foreign journalists and two locals were attacked by anti-independence militiamen.

The two local people were abducted by the miltia but the journalists, Jon Swain of the Sunday Times and American photogrpaher Chip Hires, from the Gamma news agency, escaped into the hills around Dili.

The British Forces Commander in East Timor, Brigadier David Richards, said the men were later rescued by Australian troops.

"The point is that it underlines the point that outside Dili it is a volatile and dangerous place," he told BBC News.

Jubilation greets troops

About 2,800 Interfet troops are expected to have been flown or shipped in to East Timor by Tuesday night - and the unloading of equipment at the port in Dili has continued.

[ image: British Gurkhas have secured Dili airport]
British Gurkhas have secured Dili airport
Five warships - including a high-speed catamaran of the Australian Navy carrying about 500 troops - have arrived in Dili.

Planes from Australia, France and New Zealand are maintaining a round-the-clock operation to fly in more troops.

There have been scenes of jubilation in the East Timorese capital, Dili, as refugees pouring from their hiding-places in the hills have greeted the international peacekeeping force.

Click here to see a map of latest developments in East Timor

As Australian soldiers marched through the burnt and looted streets of Dili, people emerged from side streets to cheer and dance for joy.

The BBC's James Robbins reports: "Indonesia feels humilieated by the loss of East Timor"
They flashed "V" for victory signs and wore shirts bearing the image of pro-independence leader, Xanana Gusmao - the first time in weeks that people here have dared to display such allegiance.

In the village of Dare, six miles (10km) south of Dili, a convoy of Australian soldiers was greeted by crowds of people, lining the road and shouting independence slogans.

[ image: Villagers lined the road to Dare to greet Interfet]
Villagers lined the road to Dare to greet Interfet
Mr Gusmao himself has pledged to return to East Timor "as soon as possible" to form a government.

He called for a "new relationship of friendship" with Indonesia, which was "facing a very difficult process of democratisation".

"What happened in Timor was not the outcome of the policies of the government but rather the work of some rebel members of the Indonesian army," Mr Gusmao told reporters in Darwin, Australia.

Inter-militia clashes

While Interfet forces control key areas around Dili, many parts of the territory remain extremely dangerous.

[ image: Troops watch houses burn in a village near Dili]
Troops watch houses burn in a village near Dili
As many as seven people were killed in various clashes between rival militia groups near the border between East and West Timor.

The commander of the pro-independence East Timor National Liberation Armed Forces (Falantil), Taur Matan Ruak, told Portuguese radio that anti-independence militiamen had been armed with "bazookas and mortars".

The BBC's Jim Fish: "Mr Habibie's speech was a face-saving exercise"
In an effort to rein in the on-going violence, Interfet soldiers have arrested several armed men in Dili and confiscated their weapons, including rifles, pistols and machetes.

Reports say hundreds of militiamen have established new bases in the border area between Indonesian West Timor and the east of the divided island.

Indonesian President BJ Habibie used an address to parliament in Jakarta to attack Australia for its actions in East Timor - but he failed even to mention the chaos caused by the rampaging militiamen.

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