Subject: SMH: Awesome destruction 'like carpet bombing'

Subject: SMH: Awesome destruction 'like carpet bombing'

Sydney Morning Herald Thursday, September 30, 1999

Awesome destruction 'like carpet bombing'

PHOTO: An Australian soldier patrols outside a blazing building. Though most of Dili has been secured, fires proclaim the presence of the militias. Photo by AFP/EMMANUEL DUNAND

By MARK DODD, Herald Correspondent in Dili

When paramilitary toughs supported by Indonesia's discredited military force in East Timor finally set down their cans of petrol and matches, hundreds of innocent people had been killed, tens of thousands made homeless and whole towns and villages razed.

Of a pre-ballot population estimated at 880,000 about 200,000 people are now living in squalor in Indonesian West Timor where threats, intimidation and sudden, violent death at the hands of the militia is a daily hazard.

A United Nations helicopter survey last week of the damage inflicted across this half-island territory during a fortnight of unchecked militia attacks is mind-boggling in its scope.

A delegation from the European Union on an assessment mission in East Timor said on Tuesday the destruction was comparable to damage in the Balkans.

About 70 per cent of Dili, East Timor's capital, lies in ruins and infrastructure has all but collapsed. There is no mains water, telephone lines are down, electricity operates in only a few areas and sanitation and public health services are non-existent. Many of the city's 174,000 population are now returning, including refugees from other regional centres.

The enclave town of Oecussi, lying on the north coast of Indonesian West Timor, is 90 per cent destroyed. The UN spokesman Mr David Wimhurst likened the damage to World War II carpet bombing.

A foreign reporter on the helicopter survey said there was no sign of life except for a small group of people standing on a barren ridge line on the town's outskirts. The pilot reported one other unidentified person signalling with a mirror.

Baucau, East Timor's second-biggest city with a pre-ballot population of 96,800 escaped largely intact. However, utilities such as communications, power and water are all out of order. The main clinic, post office and telecommunications centre facilities were torched, along with the market and UN headquarters. Central Manatuto, population 35,200, lies totally destroyed and completely depopulated.

All over Balibo, near the north-west border, houses were still burning last weekend. Damage was reported as very extensive. Ainaro, the district capital of the fertile coffee-growing south-west, is 70 per cent destroyed. Same, about 80 kilometres south of Dili, is 40 per cent destroyed.

Some villages surrounding the main district centres lie in ruins, while others inexplicably escaped damage. In Suai, on the south-west coast, where militia are alleged to have massacred more than 100 unarmed refugees sheltering in the grounds of a church, all the buildings are in ruins, with the former UN headquarters gutted.

Only a radio mast remains undamaged and, attached to it, an Indonesian flag fluttered in the breeze.

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