/** reg.easttimor: 3220.0 **/

** Topic: Fearful refugees leave Dili and head back for the hills **
** Written 3:08 PM Sep 24, 1999 by Joyo@aol.com in cdp:reg.easttimor **
Subject: Fearful refugees leave Dili and head back for the hills

also: Gurkhas see their first action in East Timor

The Times [London] September 24 1999

Janine di Giovanni witnesses events turning sour on the fourth day of liberation

Fearful refugees leave Dili and head back for the hills

IT IS the dry season in Dili and a strange, forceful wind blows through the town. Suddenly the wide streets, which two days ago were full of refugees returning home, are deserted.

On the beach, mattresses and plastic chairs that served as makeshift homes are quickly being loaded on to taxis. By the porch, which was recently full of sleeping mats and screaming children, there is a disturbing stillness. The refugees do not feel welcome in Dili.

"We're going back to the mountains," said Joao, who refused to give his last name but who was walking towards Dare in the hills with his wife and two children, carrying heavy sacks of rice. "It's still not safe, the militias are everywhere."

On the fourth day of liberated Dili, things are turning sour. It is partly the presence of militia attempting to regroup and re-establish their footholds, partly the aftermath of the murder of a Dutch journalist and partly the absence of aid workers and a civilian population, aside from the media. Despite the UN's robust efforts, it appears that the militias are shifting the balance of power.

Since Wednesday the refugees have been turning around, packing up and going back to their mountain hiding places. Yesterday a lorryload of long-haired Indonesian Army territorial soldiers approached a UN checkpoint as if to test how far they could go, before turning south and heading towards the port where they fired their guns in the air on three occasions. A lorryload of BMP, one of the more vicious militias, rode brazenly through the town and there were reports of rogue militiamen roaming the streets.

There has been a steady exodus of journalists since the murder and tension is high. The Hotel Turismo, where some journalists and Australian troops are staying, is being reinforced with extra barbed wire, and evacuation plans for journalists are discussed during briefings.

Philip Marr, an aid worker with World Vision, which has had a development programme here for five years, said: "It looks like it's turning into a ghost town. It's pretty eerie, eerier than it was before."

Mr Marr is one of the few aid workers in town. The Red Cross and the UN refugees' agency have maintained a skeletal staff but yesterday MŽdicin du Monde arrived in Dili, turned round, and flew back to Darwin.

The UN denies that there is a need for panic but the Australian soldiers seem extremely tense.

- Australia's military urged journalists to leave East Timor yesterday. A spokesman said that more than 300 foreign reporters were in East Timor but the peacekeeping mission could provide protection only for the 41 journalists who accompanied the first wave of troops.