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16 September 1999

Press Briefing



The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**East Timor

Good afternoon. The Acting Head of the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET), Brigadier General Rezaqul Haider (Bangladesh), visited the town of Baucau, about 100 kilometres east of Dili on the north coast, where he saw roughly every other house looted and burned. The houses where United Nations staff had stayed were the primary targets, he said, followed by the homes of known supporters of independence. The United Nations compound was looted and destroyed and some 53 vehicles were trashed and unusable.

Much of the central market was burned out, although about a dozen vendors were selling items on the street. Major General Kiki Syahnakri, the chief Indonesian military commander in East Timor, who escorted General Rezaqul, purchased some vegetables from one of these vendors saying that there were no vegetables available in Dili.

The United Nations General was able to speak to some local people, who were smiling, he said, but who had fear of the unknown in their eyes. One woman told him she was from Dili, and that militia from Baucau had rounded up her family in Dili and forced them to Baucau. The male family members had escaped into the hills, she said.

International staff in Baucau witnessed a farewell ceremony at the airport for the local militia, who then marched in smart military formation onto an Indonesian C-130 aircraft and flew off. The Baucau militia appeared to be in the process of liquidation, General Rezaqul said.

The militia were still very much in evidence on the streets of Dili, however, where 15 fires were counted today. Our people said they didn't know there was anything left to burn, they said. Looting was continuing, and long convoys of trucks could be seen carrying the loot in the direction of West Timor.

Meanwhile, in Darwin, Australia, a major military operation is under way as the newly authorized multinational force prepares to go into East Timor during the next few days.

The newly relocated displaced persons from Dili are settling in tented camps in Darwin, and Pedro UNAMET Rodriges, born in the UN compound in Dili just before the evacuation, is safely among them. According to UNAMET Spokesman David Wimhurst, Pedro has become something of a media star.

Here at Headquarters, I understand that the meetings between the Indonesian and Australian military continued this morning. They are reportedly being conducted in a cordial and businesslike manner, and they are progressing well towards the understanding of the relationship on the ground between the multinational force and the Indonesian Army.

On the humanitarian side, Ross Mountain, the Humanitarian Coordinator for the East Timor crisis, has arrived in Darwin where agencies currently in Darwin are finalizing preparations to deploy to Dili over the weekend.

Mountain has reached arrangements with United Nations agencies on the division of labour as part of a 30-day humanitarian action plan being formulated. For example, the World Food Program (WFP) is charged with logistics and food, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will be responsible for non-food items and protection of displaced persons and refugees, and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) with health and water.

Self-contained logistics kits and vehicles are being sent to Darwin, the logistics hub of humanitarian operations, for swift deployment to enable aid workers to hit the ground running.

We have just learned from the WFP that the Government of Indonesia has given clearance for the humanitarian "snowdrops" we reported on yesterday. The first delivery of much-needed aid could take place in the next 24 hours.

A joint mission by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitiarian Affairs and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is scheduled to travel to Dare from Dili within the next two days to deliver relief supplies to internally displaced persons concentrated at a camp there.


**Question-and-Answer Session

Question: Is there a reaction from the Secretary-General on the reports that the Indonesian military would pull out when the multinational force comes in? Also, are we going to receive a readout on the results of the Australian/Indonesian meeting and the exact composition of the force?

Spokesman: On the first question, it is not our impression that the Indonesian military are pulling out of East Timor. As reported today, we noted the liquidation of the militia in Baucau which may be part of a general pattern throughout East Timor -- we are still unsure. However, the impression of General Rezaqul with whom I spoke earlier was that the Indonesian army is remaining.

With regards to your second question, although the Secretariat has participated in some of these discussions among the principals, they will have to speak themselves on what agreement they reached. But, we will be happy to ask them on your behalf if they would talk to you at the conclusion of their session today.

We are in a similar position on composition, I understand that Australia said yesterday that they would not themselves announce the composition of the force, they would let the individual troop contributors do so which is a bit unwieldy for journalists reporting on the composition. But, it is up to them and we will ask again on your behalf if they would change their minds and have a single focal point for information on the composition of this force. I don't believe the Secretariat feels it is in a position to release this information unless the troop contributors authorize us to do so. And, to my knowledge, to this point, they have not.

Question: Are you under the impression that the militia seem to be melting away rather than face up to a properly armed force?

Spokesman: They don't seem to be melting away, they seem to be marching sharply away in good formation and good order. The group in Baucau demonstrated to our military liaison officer who observed them a high degree of military discipline. Surprising, for a ragtag militia. It would certainly be helpful to the multinational force if these militia who committed all those atrocities would disappear from the scene and prevent any armed conflict between them. However, we are not sure that this is the situation in the remainder of East Timor. Also, the militia was very much in evidence around Dili today.

Question: How would the media report from Jakarta, stating that Indonesia had reneged on its security treaty of 1995 with Australia, affect the composition of the force?

Spokesman: I have not heard that discussed in this Building. I have to assume that Indonesia's indication to us that they would accept Australia's leadership of the force which has now been endorsed by the Security Council would not be changed, and that this is a purely bilateral matter which would have no effect on the multinational force.

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