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Wednesday, September 29, 1999 Published at 09:10 GMT 10:10 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Gurkhas guard Timor aid convoys

The Gurkhas' aid protection role is "crucial and urgent"

By Jeremy Cooke in Dili

The overland movement of aid to refugees in East Timor is being stepped up, with international forces in the area preparing to escort humanitarian convoys to the worst affected areas.

East Timor
British Army Gurkha soldiers have been given the task of ensuring the security of the convoys as they pass through areas regarded as strongholds of the anti-independence militias.

The international effort to get aid through to East Timor's desperate refugees has been painfully slow.

Most needed

Now, though, the British Army Gurkhas will guard the convoys which will take food and supplies to the places where they are most needed.

With just 300 or so Gurkhas among more than 3,500 soldiers on the ground, this development does not necessarily represent a major escalation in the movement of aid.

There are still thousands of anti-independence militia fighters in this area and they represent a major and on-going security problem.

But senior officers serving with the Gurkhas are willing to accept the risks and they regard their mission as crucial and urgent.

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