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%More Than 1,000 Soldiers Begin International Peacekeeping Operation in East Timor%)

September 20, 1999

DILI, Indonesia (AP) _ The international peace force assigned to bring order to East Timor’s murderous chaos landed without resistance Monday, effectively marking the end of Indonesia’s control after 24 turbulent years.

Armored personnel carriers rolled from the bellies of Hercules transport planes and clattered down the rubbish-strewn streets of Dili. Timorese refugees in tattered clothes watched in amazement.

But the real test for the 7,500-member international force will come when it spreads into remote areas to protect a still terrified populace. It was unclear whether the militias would fade away or transform themselves into guerrilla fighters sniping and harassing the unwanted foreigners.

In wave after wave, the transport planes from Northern Australia airlifted more than 1,000 soldiers and tons of ammunition, explosives, land mines and supplies.

The troops arrived in a city abandoned by its people and left in smoking ruins, with no food, no electricity, no clean water and thousands of desperate refugees trying to get out. Within hours of beginning the operation at dawn, heavily armed combat troops from Australia, New Zealand and Britain were in control of the airport and the harbor, the two vital links to the city.

As they moved through town, the troops could see black smoke from fresh fires billowing over the city and, in the evening, the glow of flames in the countryside.

``There is a lot of destruction,″ said Australian Maj. Chip Henriss-Andersen. But some residents emerged into the streets to gawk. Some shook hands with the troops and smiled.

``A lot of people were saying `Hello Mister,′ probably their only English,″ said Henriss-Andersen, a naturalized Australian born in Cleveland, Ohio. ``I think pretty soon we’ll have them saying `G’day.‴

The airlift was to continue through the night, and by daybreak Tuesday operation commanders said they hoped to have 2,300 troops in the half-island territory.

``It’s been quite an encouraging day. Everything’s gone very smoothly,″ said Duncan Lewis, the Australian military spokesman in Canberra.

The arrival of the force just five days after it was authorized by the U.N. Security Council spelled the beginning of the end of Indonesian rule in East Timor, where four-fifths of the people voted for independence in an Aug. 30 referendum.

Despite threats to attack the international force, there was no sign of the pro-Indonesian militias who with the connivance of the Indonesian army, launched a campaign of arson, terror and murder, driving tens of thousands of people from their homes in hopes of nullifying the ballot.

An Indonesian news report Monday said the militia groups have banded together to form a coalition. Calling itself the United Nation Front, the group said it rejected the results of the U.N.-sponsored referendum.

``We won’t attack the U.N. peacekeeping troops. We only want to defend our ground,″ coalition chief Joao da Silva Tavares said in a report broadcast on Indonesia’s SCTV television. Indonesian military veterans from East Timor are also among the members, SCTV said.

Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 after Portugal left the colony it had held for 400 years. More than 3,700 Indonesian troops died in the first five years, fighting a determined resistance movement.

Indonesian soldiers watched in apparent bemusement as the international force moved into position, outfitted in heavy battle fatigues, armored vests, packs and ammunition belts in the 90 degree tropical heat.

There was near-pandemonium on the wharf in Dili as the sun set, with hundreds of people trying to clamber aboard a passenger ferry and navy supply ship.

Monday’s intense air operation deprived the United Nations of the planes it was using to drop of food to starving refugees in East Timor’s mountains.

``There’s a massive amount of relief ready to go,″ said David Wimhurst, spokesman for the U.N. mission. ``The question is getting it in as soon as possible.″

In a report made available Monday, the United Nations Children’s Fund estimated 190,000 to 300,000 refugees were hiding in East Timor, in addition to 141,000 who fled to West Timor. Estimates from other agencies were higher.

Fears were rising of epidemics in overcrowded refugee camps from the lack of water and sanitation, UNICEF said.

Sadako Ogata, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, met President B.J. Habibie to discuss her visit Sunday and won his assurance that the food drop begun last week could continue.

Lacking any other option, she said she had to trust the Indonesian police to safeguard the refugees in West Timor, as well as UNHCR operations she hoped to set up there.

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