Subject: Report from Dili: Troops secure airport and move out into city
Date: Mon, 20 Sep 1999 08:18:32 EDT

Australian Broadcasting Corporation PM News Hour Monday, September 20, 1999 6:10

Troops secure airport and move out into Dili

MARK COLVIN: The multi-national force led by Australian troops is already making its presence felt in Dili.

Already the airport and the port are secure and there's been one encounter in which a militia member was disarmed.

RAAF Hercules transport planes have been discharging men and equipment since the early hours of the morning. The airport itself is clearly under multi-national force control with Australians and troops from several other nations outnumbering the Indonesian forces who met them this morning.

Our correspondent, Geoff Thompson, travelled into Dili on board one of the Hercules aircraft that landed this afternoon.

How many troops are now there and what's the scene?

GEOFF THOMPSON: Well we've been told that there will be a thousand troops here by the end of the day, Australian troops, and there may be up to two and half thousand once you take in the other multi-national components that are in the force that are arriving today.

It's really a hive of activity here, Mark, at the airport. Soldiers are moving around everywhere, Hercs are flying in every, you know, within half an hour sometimes, they're offloading quickly, they're walking off in full combat gear and then I've just seen two armoured personnel carriers, quite imposing vehicles, driving out of the airport, which is the first serious armoury we've seen turn up in Dili today.

The airport is very secure and it has to be said with the assistance of the Indonesian military and the Australian military have been very complimentary of the Indonesian military's cooperation, and when you look around you you quite often see trucks driven by Indonesian soldiers carrying multi-national force personnel into town.

MARK COLVIN: So there is complete cooperation at the moment then?

GEOFF THOMPSON: Well there is cooperation at the moment. A cynic may suggest that this was always going to happen, the Indonesian military was going to turn it on for the multi-national force and to give whatever assistance it could, at least in Dili. I mean there's been martial law here for some time now, they've been saying for some time that they have the place under control and clearly they want to show the world that that is the case.

The real questions will come when the multi-national force wants to move into the western regions and the questions will then be how cooperative the Indonesian military are and what sort of advice they give the multi-national force about the security in that area.

MARK COLVIN: But for the moment the main objectives are in Dili. We talked about the airport. I understand the port is now secure so that should mean, shouldn't it, that the heavier equipment will be able to land this afternoon or evening?

GEOFF THOMPSON: Well that's right. I understand that some of the larger equipment and most of the troops will actually come in by sea. The first arrivals were of course via the airport. I've been told that the SAS arrived the first thing this morning in blackhawks and they were the first to secure the airport and then the waves of Hercules, but obviously they have more capacity to bring in larger equipment and more personnel by sea, and I understand that that is the way it will start to move, but of course the air drops will continue as well.

MARK COLVIN: Is there any fear about ambushes, particularly from the higher ground around the airport and other parts of Dili?

GEOFF THOMPSON: If there is any fear about that they're not talking about it at the moment. They're being quite tight lipped on their precise operational procedures. I mean the higher ground in terms of ambushes from Dili, the high ground is a fair distance from the airport. I mean you can see the hills but, you know, short of a well trained high powered sniper rifle there isn't much they can do from there.

But there were some, there was an incident today at the port when Australian and New Zealand troops turned up there in the company of some Indonesian soldiers, they rounded a corner and they came across two militia men on a motor cycle and the one person who was there was Major Chip [indistinct] Anderson who's from the 2nd Battalion in Townsville and this is something of what he had to say.

MAJOR ANDERSON: We were at the ports facility, if you can imagine the port facility looks like any other area except that it's got debris and garbage and human faeces and refugees all over the place. There are people walking around, there are lots of military walking around with weapons.

When we went in there as Australian and New Zealand soldiers today at one point a person who I assume would have been militia - he was dressed in civilian clothing, actually there were two of them on a motor cycle, and they were in civilian clothing but they had red and white bandannas on and a makeshift sort of weapon, like a home made sort of rifle it appeared to me from where I stood. We stopped his motor cycle and the New Zealand soldiers asked them to give up their weapons and they started to talk with them, through an interpreter. The TNI came along and gave support to the confiscation of the weapon and it was taken away, and that was the last I saw of it.

MARK COLVIN: Major Chip, born in Cleveland, Ohio, I believe and serving in the Australian Army.

Geoff, do you know whether they're also going to be landing at Bacau today?

GEOFF THOMPSON: I haven't ascertained that yet, Mark. We only know really what's happening at Dili and many journalists here only know what's happening at Dili airport because of the arrangements made with ADF we are sort of required to stay with them. If we leave that arrangement then we have to fend for ourselves, that means fending for ourselves in terms of food and things as well so there are some movements I think beginning to be made into town and that's really what we want to see, what's going on in town and find a bit more about what's happening outside of this secure airport, but as for Bacau I just don't know yet whether they have flown in there.

MARK COLVIN: Geoff Thompson in Dili, at the airport there.


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