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As Referendum Approaches, Violence Flares In Dili

The Australian army has been placed on alert to evacuate 200 Australian citizens after violence flared yesterday in Dili, East Timor. The long-awaited independence referendum in the former Portuguese colony is due to take place this coming Monday.

A party of New Zealand MPs and a small number of New Zealand journalists are presently in East Timor to observe the referendum. New Zealand police and armed forces personnel are also in East Timor assisting in the UN referendum operation.

Speaking to the BBC a UN spokesman said the violence yesterday was confined to a small part of East Dili and that the rest of the country was peaceful.

During the violence there were pitched battles between police and anti-independence militia . There were several shooting incidents in the capital and at least 4 people were killed.

Also speaking to the BBC, an Amnesty International spokesman said witnesses had told Amnesty that anti-independence militias were given firearms during the demonstrations by police, and that these were then used to shoot pro-independence campaigners.

The sspokesman said he was increasingly anxious about what may happen after the referendum - which at this stage, it appears, will still take place.

He said Amnesty was particularly concerned at the apparent change in "tone" of the militia's activities as the referendum approached.

Indonesian security forces have been accused on numerous occasions in recent months of arming and aiding and abetting anti-independence militias in their attacks on both the pro-independence movement - and - on occasion the UN.

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