THE AGE [Melbourne]

26 September 1999

Timor 'totally destroyed'


The devastation across East Timor is far worse than feared - on a scale similar to Rwanda and Kosovo - with up to 75per cent of key regional towns totally destroyed, according to a United Nations assessment.

Reconnaissance flights outside the capital, Dili, have revealed towns and villages laid waste by a month of destruction unleashed by anti-independence forces.

``When we flew over the eastern part of the territory and saw the extent of the damage from the air, it was very clear there were very few people left in the towns,'' said a spokesman for the UN mission in East Timor, Mr David Wimhurst, in Dili.

As the UN uncovered the extent of the devastation in East Timor, the death toll from street riots in Jakarta over the Indonesian Government's new security bill climbed to six with the death of a nine-year-old boy last night. An Australian embassy officer today confirmed that unidentified gunmen had last night fired on the Australian embassy in Jakarta for the second time in a week.

Mr Wimhurst said the task facing the relief agencies is huge, with almost the entire East Timor population of 800,000 people scattered by the violence since they voted last month to throw off Indonesian rule.

Between 400,000 and 500,000 people are estimated to have fled their towns and villages for other parts of the territory, and many are camped in mountains, going hungry.

Mr Wimhurst said about three-quarters of the houses in the eastern towns of Delor and Los Palos were destroyed. Louro was ``almost totally destroyed'' and Manatuto was also devastated.

The UN believes at least 150,000 East Timorese have either fled or been forcibly removed to West Timor and many of those refugees have been transmigrated to the Indonesian mainland.

A humanitarian team is expected to return from Baucau today with an assessment of the plight of thousands of refugees still taking shelter in the hills.

Dili was mostly calm today and InterFET commanders said the security situation had improved. But the build-up of the multi-national force continued overnight with the arrival of 800 troops and a French medical unit.

Meanwhile, a special session in Geneva of the UN's Commission on Human Rights had to be extended to a third day after a European Commission resolution calling for an international investigation of human rights atrocities in East Timor was re-drafted in a bid to placate Asian opponents, including China, Japan, India and the Philippines.

The last-minute manoeuvring came as East Timor resistance leader and Nobel Prize laureate Mr Jose Ramos Horta made an impassioned plea to delegates. ``I hope every one of you at least has the courage to look yourself in the mirror tonight and ask whether you have not become an accomplice to impunity, genocide and war crimes,'' he said.