Journalists on the run after militia attack car

"`Viva East Timor!' people shouted, `Independence!' and `Viva Xanana Gusmao!' These were the lost people of Dare. Yesterday, every one of them had a smile on his face." Richard Lloyd Parry, Page 14
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The Independent Online
BRITISH TROOPS and Australian helicopters were combing the streets of Dili last night in search of two foreign journalists who have become the latest victims of the violence in East Timor.

Jon Swain of the Sunday Times and Chip Hires, an American photographer, were last night in hiding in a forest close to Dili after their car was attacked by pro-Indonesia militiamen. Another european journalist was missing last night, after his motorcycle driver reported that he had run for safety after they were shot at.

The blue taxi was ambushed and fired upon late yesterday afternoon as it drove through a Dili suburb which has witnessed much of the worst violence since East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence in last month's referendum. The driver of the car, a local man, was reported to have been killed by a shot through the head. The third passenger, a Timorese interpreter, was apparently taken prisoner.

Mr Swain and Mr Hires fled into a nearby forest from where they contacted the Sunday Times in London, via a mobile telephone. Australian helicopters with heat-seeking equipment and British armoured personnel vehicles were last night patrolling Dili in search of the three men, but with no success. The two journalists told the Sunday Times that they were safe, although shots were being fired around them. The search was expected to resume at first light this morning.

The Sunday Times' managing editor Richard Caseby said: "They were stopped by the militia. There was a serious attack on the driver - unconfirmed, I believe his eye was gouged out - and the translator was taken away by the militia.

"Jon and the photographer escaped and they went to hide in some bush and woodland nearby. The latest position ... is that Jon is unhurt and we believe the escaped photographer is also unhurt. They are still in hiding and they are trying to make contact with the UN peacekeepers." Mr Swain, 51, is an award-winning journalist and has worked for Sunday Times for 26 years.