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Friday, September 10, 1999 Published at 16:06 GMT 17:06 UK

Eyewitnesses speak of Timor devastation

"Buildings burning - you can't breathe in Dili"

Eyewitness reports emerging from East Timor speak of the devastation wrought in the province, while the stories of those who have escaped the chaos bear testament to the suffering of those still caught up in the horror.

"Dili is really a ghost city in this moment. Everything is destroyed, not only houses and blocks of flats, but everything. You cannot see one person, one citizen in the street.

East Timor
"You see only troops and militias... it is horrible," Portuguese radio's reporter Luciano Alvarez said, describing the scene that the departing UN compound staff left behind.

An East Timorese refugee, who arrived in northern Australia after being evacuated from Dili in an Australian air force plane, gave a vivid picture of the wholesale destruction of the city.

"The Indonesian troops are now acting for the militias. Dili is not just destroyed, it has been razed. There are no houses, no-one has a house left in Dili.

"The way they are setting houses alight is with a hose - not with petrol cans.

"A hose douses the houses and then they throw a light.

"Buildings burning - you can't breathe in Dili, it is not just that you can't see, you can't breathe either."

Severed heads

The refugee said that his group were kicked and beaten on their way to the airport, where further horrors awaited them.

"My daughter witnessed a scene near the airport: an execution.

"A man, standing up, was decapitated with a sword, his head rolling on the ground."

Similar horrors featured in the account of Alexandro Freitas Gusmao, leader of the East Timor Student Forum.

> He described seeing severed heads stuck on poles and exhibited as trophies.

He told an Italian newspaper: "They arrive at night, smash down the door with their rifle butts and drag the condemned person away. ..

"If it is a man, they torture him, if it is a women, they rape her before killing her.

"The next morning they return and summon the whole village with loudspeakers on trucks. Normally the victim's head is on the floor of the officer's jeep, in a plastic supermarket bag.

"The officer grabs it by the hair and brandishes it, shouting: 'Take a good look! And above all beware! Be careful what you think! If you think with the right head, you will keep it attached to your neck.'

"A severed head is a very convincing argument," Mr Gusmao added.

To the mountains

A pro-Independence leader, Commander Matan Ruak from Falintil, the East Timor National Liberation Armed Forces, spoke to Portuguese radio from somewhere in the Timorese jungle, and said both the Indonesian military and refugees were on the move in the province.

"The situation remains tense," Commander Ruak said.

"The forcible evacuation of the population from practically all localities and towns continues. The flight to the mountains continues. The troop movements are also being stepped up," he said.

"Everyone is fleeing in panic, they are scattered to the four corners, and without communications it is hard to establish people's whereabouts or check what is happening in Dili," he added. .

"We can do as we like"

On the other side of the Timor divide, the extent of the destruction was acknowledged by one of the pro-Indonesian militia leaders, Herminio da Costa.

He told Portuguese radio that he had the right to burn what belonged to him, particularly in light of the sweeping vote for independence which has angered the militias.

"We were defeated but we do not want to hand over what we have built up over 23 years... It is ours," Mr da Costa said.

"Nobody can protest. I think this is our right. I built my home, if I can't live there I can burn it - it is mine ."

BBC Monitoring (, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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