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Maliana In Flames As Chaos Envelopes East Timor

The UN operation in East Timor has entered siege mode as militia violence escalates and the announcement of the independence referendum result approaches.

The result announcement had been expected to take place early next week but today the announcement was brought forward to 9am tomorrow East Timor time, 1pm NZT today.

Meanwhile the violence against East Timorese independence supporters has increased today with the UN pulling back its staff to the capital Dili.

In Maliana in the West of the former Portuguese colony, where two UN members were murdered yesterday, and where the anti-independence militias are particularly strong, is according to the latest reports now engulfed in flames with more than 200 houses burning.

More than 20 people including two UN staff are believed to have been killed in Maliana alone.

Yesterday the UN withdrew from the town in convoy and on arrival back in Dili UN staff told reporters the militias appeared to be in complete control of the town. The militias, the staff said, were completely out of control.

Indonesian army chief General Wiranto is expected to arrive in Dili shortly to supervise the announcement of the referendum result. This is expected to result in increasing security in the capital at least today.

Meanwhile two additional battalions of Indonesian troops have also arrived in East Timor. Indonesian authorities have also said they are preparing for a massive evacuation of up to 250,000 people if violence in East Timor increases.

Meanwhile speaking to the BBC a spokesman for the Indonesian Foreign Affairs Ministry said that there was considerable misinformation being spread about the situation in East Timor. He said there were complaints concerning irregularities in the referendum ballot and a deputation was expected in Jakarta from the complainants.

On Monday the UN supervised referendum on the future of East Timor passed in relative tranquility. Since then however violence against UN workers and independence campaigners has steadily increased. The Indonesian military and police are accused of standing by and allowing the attacks against civilians, UN personnel and foreign journalists to take place without recrimination.

(continuing…)

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