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Local Militiamen Burn Dili Compound

September 14, 1999

DILI, Indonesia (AP) _ Rampaging militiamen were believed to have set fire to the abandoned U.N. compound in East Timor today, hours after 110 U.N. staff and 1,300 refugees left for safety in Australia, a U.N. official said.

However, a U.N. spokesman in New York said he was told a small nearby house _ not the compound _ had been burned. The conflicting reports could not be reconciled immediately.

Fred Eckhard, the spokesman at U.N. headquarters in New York, also said the compound was looted by the Indonesian military ``the very people we asked to secure the compound.″

Early in the day, Fernando del Mundo, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Jakarta, said U.N. staff members in Dili had reported seeing a black plume of smoke rising from the direction of the U.N. compound.

The staff, who took refuge in the Australian consulate after most U.N. workers left, feared their headquarters in East Timor’s provincial capital had been set ablaze by militiamen, del Mundo said.

Also today, a U.N. agency said more than 200,000 East Timorese risk starvation because they are cut off from food supplies and drinking water.

About 7,000 people have been killed and 100,000 have been forcibly relocated to West Timor, the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization said. While it is impossible to confirm the number killed in the past week, previous estimates have ranged from 600 to 7,000.

In the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, nearly 1,000 students tried to march on parliament today, demanding the resignation of President B.J. Habibie and the end of military involvement in politics _ and blaming both for the bloodshed in East Timor. Protesters clashed with police firing plastic bullets and tear gas.

``The military kill people in East Timor. We students must challenge them,″ said one protest organizer, who identified himself by the single name of Lachman.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas was in New York today negotiating with U.N. officials on the makeup of a peacekeeping force intended to halt the violence that has forced hundreds of thousands of East Timorese to flee their homes. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan officials said today peacekeepers could be on the ground by the weekend.

Rapid agreement on deploying a force is vital to saving the estimated 300,000 refugees, said Samuel Tamrat, senior political officer for the U.N. mission in East Timor, or UNAMET, in Jakarta.

With many refugees in the hills running out of food and water, an Australian government aid agency, AusAID, hoped to start dropping food and humanitarian supplies on Thursday.

David Ximenes, a spokesman for East Timor’s independence movement, told Portugal’s TSF radio that killings in Dili are continuing. Referring to the arrival of peacekeepers, he said: ``Three or four more days will be too late. We can’t defend ourselves. We’re unarmed.″

The Atlanta-based Carter Center, which monitors international political crises, said militiamen, backed by the Indonesian military, continue to terrorize and murder refugees in camps set up in West Timor.

In Rome, East Timor’s spiritual leader said today that he’d asked Pope John Paul II to pressure President Clinton for quick action to mobilize an international force.

Bishop Carlos Belo, co-winner of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize, said he hoped the United States didn’t have ``two standards: one for Kosovo and one for East Timor.″

Clinton has endorsed the idea of international peacekeepers for East Timor, but the United States will not take a lead role. By contrast, the United States marshaled NATO forces and international peacekeepers for a huge campaign in Kosovo.

Asked why he feels Clinton is so vital to getting the peacekeeping effort off the ground, Belo said with a smile: ``Because he’s the boss of the world.″

Earlier today, to the echo of sporadic gunfire in the distance, the United Nations closed its besieged compound in Dili, flying out the staffers and civilians who had become hostage to marauding militia and Indonesian troops.

The dozen U.N. personnel who stayed behind in Dili are to prepare the way for the international peacekeepers.

The U.N. compound had become a symbol of U.N. resolve to shepherd East Timor to independence and protect its people after 78.5 percent of voters opted in an Aug. 30 referendum to break away from Indonesia, which invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975.

For more than a week, guns were fired outside the compound walls and cars were smashed and looted. Militiamen threatened to lob in grenades.

The U.N. staff and East Timorese were evacuated under the guard of Indonesian troops through burned-out and looted streets to the airport. The Indonesian news agency Antara said one East Timorese died of a heart attack.

The refugees _ exhausted, bedraggled and in many cases sick _ arrived later in Australia. They will live in tents in a compound outside Darwin. Many of the children have chicken pox, and several cases of tuberculosis were diagnosed.

Alatas has said Indonesia prefers Asian countries in the peacekeeping force. But he says the government is not setting any conditions on the force’s makeup.

Australia _ which has been touted as most likely to lead the force _ has been the most vocal advocate of a peacekeeping contingent in East Timor. Some Indonesians accuse Australia of meddling in the conflict.

Although there has been no official word on the size of the peacekeeping force, estimates say 7,000 troops could be needed.

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