Subject: Interfet seals East/West Timor border crossings

Interfet seals East/West Timor border crossings

BALIBO, East Timor, Oct 2 (AFP) - The multinational force in East Timor has deployed nearly a thousand troops along the border with Indonesian-controlled West Timor and sealed all crossings, officers said Saturday.

The troops were airlifted into positions along the border on Friday, they said. The move follows threats by pro-Jakarta militias now based in West Timor to attack the Australian-led force.

Australian soldiers were Saturday setting up base in the old Portuguese fort in Balibo, close to the border.

Joao da Silva Tavares, the commander of 12,000 militia fighters who have regrouped around Atambua in West Timor, said on Thursday he would lead his men back across the border on Monday to reclaim six districts now occupied by Interfet.

Speaking late Friday in Dili, the International Force for East Timor (Interfet) commander, Australian Major General Peter Cosgrove, said the deployment of the troops in western East Timor was the "largest air mobile operation that the ADF (Australian Defence Force) has conducted."

He said a small group of troops from New Zealand and Britain's Gurkhas had carried out reconnaissance before the main body arrived.

"These troops led the way and they were in position for some time," Cosgrove told a small group of journalists.

"Our intention in going out to the western region is to demonstrate that the mandate is clear and we must give protection to all East Timorese," he added.

A convoy of more than 100 trucks and armoured personnel carriers was Saturday making its way from Dili to the border region.

Balibo is now a ghost town, with 90 per cent of the buildings unfit to live in, presumably destroyed by departing pro-Indonesian militia and Indonesian military.

Australian soldiers on Friday sighted and questioned some Indonesians in the area, but it is not clear if they were militia or simply looters.

Homemade weapons were seized from a house in the town and a number of people were seen fleeing towards the border to the south and west of the town.

"We are establishing a forward operating base to provide a secure environment for the people to move back in," an ADF spokesman said.

In Dili, Colonel Mark Kelly said the troops had set up a vehicule control point on the road from Balibo to the border at Batugade, where a contingent of 120 troops has been deployed.

"Today the buildup of forces in that area is continuing, which includes road convoys bringing forward additional command and control vehicles, additional armored vehicles as well support vehicles," Kelly said.


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