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Friday, September 24, 1999 Published at 05:11 GMT 06:11 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Timor relief operation under threat

Refugees are still leaving for West Timor

Continuing insecurity in East Timor is seriously hampering the humanitarian operation for thousands of displaced people, despite the arrival of foreign peacekeepers.

East Timor
United Nations aid agencies are warning that help is urgently required outside the capital, Dili, but cannot be provided until the area is secure.

Parts of the territory - particularly towards the border with the Indonesian province of West Timor - remain "no-go areas" for the UN forces, most of whom are still confined to Dili.

The BBC's David Willis: "Commander of UN Troops has called for faster deployment of troops"
But the Australian commander of UN troops, Major General Peter Cosgrove, has warned that he cannot guarantee security until more troops arrive.

His comments came as questions were being raised in some quarters about the effectiveness of the Australian army troops, the largest contingent in the UN force.

There are also reports that large numbers of militiamen are massing over the border in West Timor, as well as in one of their strongholds, the district of Liquisa outside Dili.

Trial convoy

The UNHCR's Jacques Franquin: "At least 20 people have starved to death"
A spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said at least 20 East Timorese were so far known to have died of starvation.

Tens of thousands of refugees are sheltering in the hills.

"We have to go quickly and we still don't know at which speed the multinational force will able to control the whole area," Jacques Franquin said.

On Thursday, aid workers drove a trial run food convoy out of Dili to the village of Dare in the hills above the capital.

[ image: Mr Alatas pledged to honour independence]
Mr Alatas pledged to honour independence
It consisted of two unescorted, commandeered trucks - UN vehicles have not yet been shipped into East Timor.

"One has to remember that the needs of these people in the mountains are very great," Dr Gilbert Greenall of the UN Humanitarian Affairs Office said.

"We really can't delay much longer ... it's two weeks now that they have been in the hills."

Australian role

The Australian military has been forced to deny there are divisions among the multinational troops after a senior Thai commander reportedly raised concerns about the leadership of General Cosgrove.

"He led the troops into East Timor with a kind of aggressive attitude that is no good to anyone," said the Thai officer, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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

But Australian Colonel Duncan Lewis, a spokesman for the UN-backed International Force East Timor (Interfet), said he did not believe there was dissent.

"I think the stitching together of the coalition is always a difficult thing and we are seeing the settling in period of that coalition."

The BBC's Mark Devenport in New York: "Mr Alatas pledged to ensure the transition to independence"
The head of the British contingent, Brigadier David Richards, defended the Australians' role.

"Their discipline is holding out well. They are learning rapidly on the job and I've been most impressed by everything I've seen," he said.

'Amicable parting'

At the UN in New York, Foreign Minister Mr Alatas pledged that Jakarta would honour the wishes of East Timor's people for independence.

He said it would ensure that what he called the territory's parting of the ways with Indonesia proceeded peacefully and amicably.

The Indonesian Government has now lifted martial law in the province, effectively transferring responsibility for security to Interfet.

The BBC's Clare Doole in Geneva: "Western countries are adamant the massive human rights abuses must not go unpunished"
Major General Songkitti Chakkrabhat, the deputy commander of Interfet, will hold talks in Jakarta on Friday with Indonesian military chief General Wiranto to ease mounting tensions.

On Thursday, Interfet troops appeared to be taken by surprise when they came under fire for the first time from suspected anti-independence militias in the capital.

As reports of atrocities continue to emerge, the UN Human Rights Commission is continuing in emergency session in Geneva.

Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson has called for action to bring to account those responsible for gross violations in the territory.

New reports of atrocities committed by the militias include the discovery of what is said to be a torture and execution centre run by the militias.

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