Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Mon, Sep 6 1999 8:33 AM AEST

UN pull-out puts East Timor refugees in peril

There are fears 1,000 refugees are in danger of being attacked by pro-Jakarta militias in East Timor's south-west after the United Nations was forced to abandon its regional office in the town of Suai.

Militias backed by Indonesian security forces have surrounded the Suai Catholic Church, and at last reports were preventing the refugees from leaving.

Speaking by telephone from Suai, a Catholic priest expressed desperation about the fate of people who have sought sanctuary in the church grounds.

Militias have repeatedly threatened the refugees and yesterday staged a series of attacks, killing at least two people and torching scores of homes.

"There has certainly been a number of large fires close by - within a radius of 500 metres," he said.

"It would seem to be that a number of houses are burning and all through the night hundreds of rounds were being fired, ranging from rapid machine-gun fire to semi-automatic fire, and as I stated earlier, a number of shots were fired in the back alley here."