Crisis in East Timor heightens as the UN closes its mission

The political cleansing of East Timor continued yesterday with the United Nations saying it was pulling out of its besieged headquarters in East Timor's devastated capital.

Houses were burning just 40 yards from the UN compound in the provincial capital of Dili, where the electricity and phones had already been cut.

Witnesses who ventured into the deserted Dili streets said Indonesian soldiers were participating in looting, carrying furniture out of abandoned houses and loading it onto trucks.

In the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, armed forces chief General Wiranto denied rampant rumors that President B.J. Habibie would be forced to step down because of his handling of the crisis.

A high-level UN delegation in Jakarta to seek ways to restore order in Timor held two hours of talks yesterday with Indonesia's foreign minister, but there was no sign peace was any closer.

The United Nations organized the Aug. 30 referendum that overwhelmingly approved independence, but also triggered a wild and murderous backlash from pro-Jakarta militias aided by Indonesian troops and police.

Australia is leading a call for an international peacekeeping force to be assembled. But most nations say they won't go into East Timor unless invited by the Indonesian government.

"We have to be selective where we commit our forces and, under the circumstances, this is not an area that we are prepared to commit forces," US Defense Secretary William Cohen said yesterday. "As I have indicated before, the United States cannot be - and should not be - viewed as the policeman of the world."

Meanwhile, Dili was being cleared of its population, raising doubts that any foreign intervention force would find much left to protect.

"They are trying to kill all the educated people so we cannot develop our country," said a man who declined to be identified. "This is a goodbye operation."

Late Wednesday, the United Nations in Dili reversed its previous stance of defiance and said it was closing the mission.

UN spokesman Brian Kelly told reporters that 206 international staffers and 167 East Timorese working for the world body and members of their families would be flown out beginning Thursday morning.

In addition to the UN staffers, more than 1,000 East Timorese citizens had sought shelter in the complex of UN buildings. Their fate was uncertain.

Angry Indonesian demonstrators broke into the Australian Embassy compound yesterday and set the country's flag on fire. Many Indonesians accuse Australia of meddling in East Timorese affairs.

Thousands of refugees were still fleeing East Timor yesterday. The UN estimates that 150,000 to 200,000 people have fled their homes, or the province altogether. East Timor had 850,000 people before the Aug. 30 referendum.

The Indonesian Army invaded East Timor in 1975 as it was gaining independence from Portugal.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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