DILI, Indonesia (AP) _ Indonesia imposed martial law in East Timor early Tuesday as thousands of refugees fled the capital and anti-independence militias continued a wave of terror, torching homes and reportedly slaughtering hundreds of civilians.

Meanwhile, rebel leader Jose Alexandre Gusmao left the site where he had been held under house arrest, amid high expectations he was being freed. The government expressed hope that he can help calm the desperate situation in his native East Timor.

World leaders indignantly called for Indonesia to make good on its pledge to provide security in the provincial capital, Dili. But witnesses said Indonesian troops were aiding the militias and trying to intimidate journalists and U.N. workers into fleeing the territory.

Stung by international criticism, President B.J. Habibie signed an order imposing martial law. It wasn't until Monday that senior officials even acknowledged security had broken down in East Timor.

``There are many dead,'' military spokesman Brig. Gen. Sudrajat, who announced the martial law order, said Tuesday in a telephone interview. ``Nothing is working and there are so many refugees.''

Gusmao, 53, had been held under house arrest in Jakarta, and his independence supporters worry for his personal safety if he travels back to the bloodbath in East Timor immediately.

Gusmao, widely expected to become president of an independent East Timor, left the house at 9:50 a.m. He immediately got into a government car and was whisked away to the Indonesian justice minister's office.

With the military already out in force on the island, it was not immediately clear what effect the martial law order would have. However, it would formally give the armed forces full control over the province where civilian administration has virtually collapsed.

The Clinton administration on Monday joined several other governments in urging Indonesia to quell the disorder or invite in outside forces to keep the peace.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that if the violence continues ``the international community will have to consider what other measures it can take to assist the Indonesian government. ''

U.N. spokesman Nick Birnback said Tuesday that the 400 U.N. staffers would remain in Dili. U.N. officials evacuated 300 of their elections workers Monday. More than 2,500 refugees were still in the U.N. compound, seeking a safe haven from the fighting.

Many houses had been burned down overnight and thousands of people were at the Dili dock, waiting for ferries out of the city, witnesses said Tuesday.

The city spiraled into chaos after the announcement Saturday that East Timorese had voted overwhelmingly in favor of independence from Indonesia in a U.N.-supervised referendum.

Bands of pro-Indonesian militia set houses ablaze, fired rocket-propelled grenades and bazookas, and shouted through megaphones for those remaining in the city to get out. Witnesses said both militiamen and Indonesian troops loaded people onto trucks and sent them to West Timor, an Indonesian province that shares the island with East Timor.

``There is very clear evidence of collusion between elements of the (Indonesian) security forces and the militias to deport East Timorese forcibly to West Timor and elsewhere,'' said Mary Robinson, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. ``An integral part of this campaign is to terrorize the population with the most gruesome abuses of their fundamental rights.''

Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio said the U.N. Security Council was responsible for the deteriorating situation.

``The international community, which knows how to intervene in cases of serious human rights violations, must adopt the same measure under the threat of witnessing a people's genocide,'' he said.

Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese colony of East Timor in 1975 and has held it in an iron grip ever since. It is estimated that 200,000 civilians were killed in the last 25 years.

Refugees streamed into West Timor at a rate of 1,000 per hour Monday, the International Committee of the Red Cross said in Geneva. Some 25,000 people had already been forced from the capital, it said.

Pro-Indonesian militiamen killed more than 170 people Monday, according to the East Timorese International Support Center, based in Darwin, Australia.

Witnesses reported seeing soldiers escort militiamen during an attack on thousands of refugees hiding in the residence complex of Bishop Carlos Belo, East Timor's spiritual leader and the winner of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize.

The militia fired at the refugees, killing at least 39, and left Belo's house burning out of control, said pro-independence leader Manuel Carrascalao. That death toll could not be independently confirmed. Belo was at home during the attack, but was uninjured. He was later evacuated to the eastern town of Bacau.

Militiamen firing guns also stormed the local Red Cross headquarters immediately next door.

The Red Cross said 11 of its delegates and eight other foreign aid workers were taken at gunpoint to a police station, but the whereabouts of the local employees and more than 2,000 people who sought shelter in its compound were unknown.

Workers from the Carter Center, former President Jimmy Carter's Atlanta-based center that was monitoring the election, were also evacuated.

President Clinton focused on the East Timor issue Monday in a telephone conversation with Annan. Clinton spokesman Barry Toiv said the two ``discussed ways to encourage Indonesia to do what is required to bring security to East Timor.''

Australia's Prime Minister John Howard told Clinton he was ready to send troops to East Timor if the Indonesian government asked, Toiv said.

Portugal, France, Australia, and Britain have said they support sending a U.N. force to East Timor, but Britain said Indonesia would need to ask for assistance first.

``Either Indonesia has to take care of the situation itself or allow the international community to come in,'' Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said during a visit to Vietnam.

Annan was to brief a high-level Security Council delegation before it left for Jakarta on Monday evening in an effort to quell the violence, which left four U.N. workers dead and six others missing and presumed dead.

The mission will include the U.N. ambassadors from Namibia, Malaysia, Slovenia and Britain, and Alphons Hamer, a Dutch diplomat.

Habibie met Annan's special representative, Jamsheed Marker, and planned to speak to Annan by phone Monday night.

Megawati Sukarnoputri, front-runner to succeed Habibie when Indonesia selects a new president in November, offered her ``utmost apologies'' on behalf of Indonesia to the people of East Timor for the past quarter-century of violence.

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