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Monday, September 27, 1999 Published at 14:20 GMT 15:20 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Timor refugees return to shattered land

Scorched earth: Piles of ashes are all that remain of many homes

The growing presence of international peacekeepers in East Timor has encouraged a steady flow of refugees to emerge from their hillside hiding places and return home.

East Timor
What they face is a shattered land, torn apart by weeks of violence and destruction by militias determined that the territory should not separate from Indonesia.

Most are finding that their homes and everything they worked for has been either destroyed or stolen.

Nonetheless amid the climate of destruction and fear the BBC's correspondent Clive Myrie, who is in the territory, says there is a survival instinct amongst East Timorese that cannot be ignored.

Fear of attacks

[ image: Many refugees say they were forced from the territory at gun point]
Many refugees say they were forced from the territory at gun point
Across the territory few buildings have escaped without at least some form of damage and many have been reduced to little more than a pile of smouldering ashes.

Water and electricity supplies have been cut across wide areas and shops and marketplaces are either closed or destroyed.

Abby Spring of the World Food Programme in Dili told the BBC that the attacks had "gutted the economy" across East Timor.

But whilst many Timorese find the presence of international troops reassuring enough to contemplate return, thousands of others remain wary with persistent reports that militia forces may be massing along the border with West Timor in preparation for further attacks.

There are fears that the militia could use the neighbouring province as a backdoor supply route to obtain arms and ammunition from the Indonesian army.

Evicted at gunpoint

[ image: Amid the destruction East Timorese have shown a determined survival instinct]
Amid the destruction East Timorese have shown a determined survival instinct
Meanwhile there are growing concerns over the welfare of tens of thousands of refugees being held in camps in West Timor against their will.

Reports say as many as 230,000 refugees have now crossed into the western half of the island, some telling aid workers and journalists that they had been forced across the border at gunpoint.

Hundreds of militiamen have also followed the refugees and human rights groups say they are subjecting the East Timorese to intimidation and attacks. Aid agencies say the militiamen are denying them access to the refugee camps in West Timor.

Indonesia is reported to have promised the refugees housing and money if they agree to leave for other islands in the archipelago.

Dwindling supplies

In East Timor itself it is thought that around 150,000 refugees remain in the hills too scared to come out into the open even though many have gone for days with little or no food.

[ image: Aid agencies say more than airdrops are needed to get much needed aid through]
Aid agencies say more than airdrops are needed to get much needed aid through
Getting aid to them remains largely reliant on airdrops as both Dili's air and sea ports are clogged with traffic supplying the military side of the international operation.

The UN World Food Programme and the Royal Australian Air Force are both planning flights, but humanitarian agencies say such airdrops are an inefficient way of delivering aid.

Aid agencies have also complained that their efforts to get help to refugees outside the capital have been frustrated by the "safety-first" approach adopted by the Australian-led force.

Relief workers say that almost a week after international peacekeepers began arriving they are still a long way from getting roads opened and convoys of food aid moving.

They argue that the need to ask for security clearance every time they travel is wasting valuable time in beginning deliveries of desperately needed food.

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Australian Department of Defence: Peacekeeping in East Timor

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