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Wednesday, September 22, 1999 Published at 04:02 GMT 05:02 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Timorese ransack food warehouses

Looters make off with rice and sugar

Displaced residents of East Timor, desperate for food, have ransacked government-run warehouses in the capital, Dili.

East Timor
A large crowd broke through the doors of one warehouse and carried away sacks of rice and sugar, and barrels of cooking oil.

Many had come down from the mountains behind Dili where they have been sheltering, looking for whatever supplies they could find.

The BBC's Clive Myrie: "The UN are trying to keep the looting orderly"
They said there was very little food or water for them and their families, and they could not wait for international aid to arrive.

Australian peacekeeping forces arrived at the scene after about an hour and managed to regain control of the warehouses.

But the BBC's Jonathan Head, who witnessed the looting, says most of the contents had already been taken.

The commander of the international force in East Timor, Major General Peter Cosgrove, has said he believes pro-Indonesia militias are stepping up their activities in response to the return of displaced people to the capital.

The BBC's Jonathan Head: "The international force faces a formidable task"
He said they appeared to be increasing their attacks in an effort to deter the refugees from coming back.

Earlier, Gen Cosgrove warned that it could be weeks before full stability was restored to the territory.

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

[ image: Villagers lined the road to Dare to greet Interfet]
Villagers lined the road to Dare to greet Interfet
Nearly half of the 7,500-strong force is expected to be on the ground by Wednesday. But there has been no halt to the violence in and around the capital.

In the latest incident, a body - thought to be that of a Western journalist - was discovered in Dili. A reporter from Britain's Financial Times newspaper went missing several hours earlier.

Two other foreign journalists had a narrow escape when their car was ambushed, forcing them to hide until they could be rescued by Australian troops.

UK Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, on the UN's role of peacekeeping
The peacekeeping force, which started arriving on Monday, has so far secured Dili port, the airport and the UN headquarters. Several warships have also arrived.

Correspondents say the soldiers have been greeted as a liberating army.

As troops marched through the burnt and looted streets, people cheered and danced. Children shouted "Hello Mister" and "Viva independence" while others flashed "V" for victory signs.

Some wore shirts bearing the image of pro-independence leader, Xanana Gusmao - the first time in weeks people have dared to display such allegiance.

Pro-Jakarta militias, backed by Indonesian troops, went on the rampage killing independence supporters and torching buildings after East Timor voted heavily in favour of independence last month.

The BBC's James Robbins reports: "Indonesia feels humilieated by the loss of East Timor"
Up to 300,000 people are believed to be hiding in mountain and forest areas, some of whom have been living hand to mouth for weeks.

Gen Cosgrove said East Timor's military commander, Major-General Kiki Syahnakri, had told him that Indonesian forces were being scaled back in outlying areas, but would maintain a presence in Dili.

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

Refugees sheltering in the mountain town of Dare say about 20 people there have died from malnutrition. They are still too afraid to return to their homes in Dili.

''The Indonesian Army is still around and we know they kill children,'' said one man.

[ image: Troops watch houses burn in a village near Dili]
Troops watch houses burn in a village near Dili
UN spokesman David Wimhurst said food airdrops had been delayed for a second day as military aircraft poured into the airport.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata said the organisation would send missions to East and West Timor to assess the needs of refugees.

She said there were worrying reports of militia intimidation of refugees in Indonesian-controlled West Timor, where many people fled after the violence erupted.

The spiritual leader of East Timor, Bishop Carlos Belo, said the refugees were being persecuted by ''Indonesian savagery'' and called for UN intervention.

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