Subject: BBC: Jonathan Head -- "I'm lucky to be alive"
Date: Wed, 1 Sep 1999 15:49:21 -0500
From: (Maggie Helwig)

From the BBC World Service website, Sept 1 By Jonathan Head in Dili, East Timor

The militiamen simply appeared out of nowhere, and set upon us. We ran as fast as we could, and I sought shelter with my colleagues behind a building. I don't entirely recall what happened, though I gather colleagues of mine saw me being beaten. I think I'm quite lucky to be alive.

It was a very chaotic situation. While I was being beaten, there was Timorese man being beaten and hacked to death just across the road.

I think that tells you something about the way the militias are operating. Had they wanted to kill us, and they caught a number of other journalists, they would have done so. Instead, they took us over to the military post nearby.

They are clearly on good terms with the military, who were well armed, and stood by and did absolutely nothing while this mayhem was erupting around them. Later we were escorted out by the same man who had beaten us, who by that stage had calmed down. There was a lot that was orchestrated about today's mayhem, and a lot that was truly terrifying as well. When the police arrived, we had an extraordinary scene where they set up a line across the road.

They were very heavily armed, and could easily have dealt with these militias, who only have a few arms among them. The militias charged while there were journalists behind the line, and the police simply stood by and let them through.

We ran for our lives for a second time and I was astonished to see the UN civilian policemen running just as hard ahead of me. It is a symbol of a tragic impotence of this UN mission, which achieved so much when the Timorese cast their votes just two days ago.

It's not very clear what their objectives are. I sense that it's to create as much chaos as possible. The streets are now absolutely deserted. There are hundreds of local residents sheltering in the port, where they have taken all their possessions.

It's an extraordinary scene, a whole city decamping in fear of these armed gangs who were set up and trained by the Indonesian military. It's Indonesia that has allowed the situation to degenerate. Ultimately it appears they won't do anything about sorting it out. We've had too much evidence of that.

The question has to come back to the international community and the UN, as to how they will sort out security in East Timor, so that when the result comes through, the country can move forward hopefully to a better future.

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