East Timor Crisis: UN Mission - General croons as his soldiers preside over the death of Dili

SIR JEREMY Greenstock looked up briefly from his papers as our military plane levelled off at cruising altitude after take-off from Jakarta, bound for East Timor.

Catching his attention was the Madonna video playing on a full-size television screen in front of his seat. It was early Saturday but here was Madonna in soft-porn mode and a topless dancer was shimmying down a steel pole, nipples erect and thighs glistening.

For the British ambassador to the United Nations it was just another in a series of surreal moments in Indonesia, moments when it was impossible to reconcile the awfulness of the tragedy the ambassadors have been trying to reverse in East Timor with the often jaw- dropping tactlessness of their Indonesian hosts.

What, for example, can General Wiranto, the armed forces chief, have been thinking yesterday morning when he attended a function for military wives in Jakarta? With television cameras rolling, he turned to his audience and impishly suggested: "You have the same feelings like me about East Timor." Then he mounted a small stage and began to sing the ballad "Feelings" into a microphone. The man who may one day face charges of crimes against humanity in a war crimes tribunal fancies himself as Morris Albert.

The unpredictability of the Indonesians has kept the UN delegation guessing at every turn. Saturday's journey to Dili was no exception. The ambassadors were determined to get there. At the very least, they wanted to show solidarity with the 80 UN personnel who had opted to remain in the besieged East Timorese capital, even though they had been offered the chance to leave. And they wanted to go to keep up pressure on Indonesia as it pondered allowing in foreign peace-keepers.

The plane provided by General Wiranto was a 29-seat, four-star Fokker. (Four military stars were mounted on the main cabin's bulkhead and on each take-off and landing a line of officers appeared tosalute the aircraft.) Its departure was delayed by concerns about safety in Dili and fierce disagreements over who should be taken along: 400 reporters were begging for just nine seats.

Even in flight, another surprise awaited us. A fuelling stop was needed in Bali, we were told. On landing in Denpaser, we spotted gaggles of generals on the tarmac and two military buses. When a general appeared to guide us down the aircraft steps, Sir Jeremy smelt a rat. "No thank you," he said. "We're staying on board. We don't have much time."

And supreme urgency, of course, has been the theme of the week. The UN Security Council has only words for wielding influence and for the past seven days these ambassadors have been trying to exert them in any way they could to persuade Indonesia to accept peace-keepers for East Timor.

In Dili we found graphic confirmation of why the mission has been vital. Everything we had heard in Jakarta was there before us: the column of smoke seen from the aircraft windows as we approached to land, the rows upon rows of burnt-out shops and homes as we drove, under escort, to our first stop, a gathering centre for displaced people at a police station.

Families with fear in their eyes sat surrounded by mountains of personal belongings. But apart from the throngs here and in the docks, which were also crowded, it was the emptiness of Dili that shocked us. The city, like most of its buildings, was a shell, gutted by an orgy of extraordinary evil.

It is a city that has been forcibly evacuated. UN officials offered some of what they had learnt. As many as 400,000 terrified East Timorese are thought to have rushed into the hills, where they face death from another enemy beside the militia and the army - starvation. And another 100,000 have been driven on to buses, boats and planes that took them to West Timor.

Grislier still are reports of how the militia worked through this mass of wretched souls, hunting down anyone suspecting of having have championed independence.

Some, UN officials insist, were weeded out at the port and made to "disappear". Others were stabbed on the boats and thrown overboard.

This day Dili was calm but that hid nothing. "You cannot cover up what has happened to Dili; it has been destroyed and shot up," Sir Jeremy said. This may be wrong, but General Wiranto, who came to Dili before the ambassadors, seemed surprised too.

It may be for that reason that the Indonesian government, and its military, suddenly changed tack last night.

There was no Madonna video on our return flight on Saturday. The military had provided a feature film instead. About a serial killer.

Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Delivery Manager - Software Company

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Service Delivery Manager Kingston Up...

Year 3 Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Year 3 Primary Teacher in HullA f...

Drama Teacher - Hull and Grimsby

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: The JobRandstad are currently in need of ...

Reception Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education is the UK mark...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments