Aid workers to go in behind peace-keepers

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THE FIRST contingents of a heavily armed peace-keeping force are likely to land on the shores of East Timor at the weekend or by Monday at the latest, following a vote in the UN Security Council yesterday approving its deployment and authorising it to use "all necessary means" to bring peace to the territory.

Aid agencies now assembling personnel and emergency supplies in the northern Australian port of Darwin are expected to race into East Timor directly behind the soldiers, to begin bringing help to refugees who have fled their gutted homes and are now facing disease and starvation.

The World Food Programme said it was sending about 70 tons of biscuits and other foods to Darwin, and that it hoped to begin a "snow-drop" of about 300,000 small packages from helicopters over East Timor at the weekend. The packages have small wings attached to help them float to the ground.

The multinational force will grow quickly to about 8,000, of whom over half are expected to be Australian. The remaining troops will come from a coalition of countries, including many in south-east Asia, as well as Britain, France, Canada, South Korea, Argentina, and the US.

However, a gruesome warning was issued yesterday by a militia group in East Timor. The Command of the Pro-Integration Struggle said it would "eat the hearts of those that come to East Timor".

In Jakarta, the government said it accepted the UN decision. "Indonesia welcomes the decision, because basically Indonesia is no enemy of any other country," said the Information Minister, Yunus Yosfiah. However, an adviser to President B J Habibie, Dewi Fortuna Anwar, warned that Australian soldiers could be at particular risk in East Timor. "If the UN peace-keeping forces are made up of Australians they will be singled out," she said.

While no firm timetable for deployment has been set, the Australian Defence Minister, John Moore, said the delay would be short: "Now that the UN has given us the mandate, we will be looking to consolidate the coalition forces and move in by Monday at the latest."

President Bill Clinton urged the Indonesian military to clamp down, amid reports of attacks by army-backed militia forces on camps of the pro-independence Falintil guerrillas in East Timor's mountains. "What I would like them to do, now that they have asked the United Nations to come in, is simply to stop the most egregious forms of violence," he said.