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East Timorese soldiers patrol on the outskirts of Dili.

East Timorese soldiers patrol on the outskirts of Dili. (AFP)

UN opens E Timor refugee camp

The United Nations has set up a refugee camp near the East Timorese capital Dili for people fleeing the recent violence.

While the Security Council has not yet passed a resolution supporting the deployment of Australian troops to East Timor, the UN says it is keeping a close eye on the situation.

The UN still has a small mission in East Timor and spokesman Stephane Dujarric says it is preparing to accommodate refugees.

"So they have set up a camp near the UN headquarters for some 1,000 persons seeking refuge from the violence," he said.

"It is providing tents and supplies for these people and on Thursday we'll be seeking additional tents from UN agencies in case they are needed."

Mr Dujarric says the United Nations will work closely with the East Timorese Government.

"The UN mission is supporting the Timorese Government's proposed initiative to convene a meeting with representatives of the dissident soldiers groups in order to engage in a dialogue and find an outcome to the current crisis," he said.

Delegation details

The Defence Minister Brendan Nelson has told Channel Nine that a team of Defence and Foreign Affairs officials will be leaving Canberra to travel to Dili this morning.

He said they will meet with the East Timorese Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri to discuss the terms of the deployment.

"We've got around 600 East Timorese soldiers that have been unhappy and have left the East Timorese army," he said.

"They are in the main armed, they are spread to distant parts of East Timor, many of them are up in the hills.

"It is potentially quite a dangerous situation and we want to make sure we have force in numbers and the right composition."

Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer has told Channel Seven that Australia could have a small number of troops on the ground very quickly, with the bulk of the force to follow within 48 hours.

He says he has spoken to Australian Embassy staff this morning.

"The situation on the ground is still not looking too good in East Timor," he said.

"I hear that from our Embassy there that there are still sounds of gunshot fire and some people are continuing to flee away from Dili, so there is still a real sense of instability and concern there," he said.

New Zealand commitment

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark says her country will seek more information from East Timor later today on its request for New Zealand peacekeepers.

Last night East Timor formally requested New Zealand provide what Miss Clark describes as "elements" of its defence force as support.

Miss Clark says she wants to be sure what New Zealand would be getting into before she agrees to a deployment.

"It's very important not to walk into what is a factional dispute in some respects and be seen to be taking sides," she said.

"It's also important to be mindful that the Security Council is having consultations as we speak."

Portugal has agreed to send 120 military police to help maintain order.

Troop support

A defence analyst says he doubts the Federal Government could commit to the same level of support to quell civil unrest in East Timor as it did in 1999.

Australia sent 4,000 Defence personnel to East Timor then as part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission.

Neil James from the Australia Defence Association says the deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Solomon Islands in recent years have stretched the Army's capacity.

"This time around I don't think we need to send anywhere near that size of force and how long they have to stay for is another question too," he said.

"The problem is that when we did the East Timor deployment, we really didn't have too many other deployments going on at the same time. That's not the situation this time around."

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Related Links Related Links

Timeline: Unrest in East Timor

Key dates in East Timor's journey to independence and subsequent unrest.

In pictures: Crisis in East Timor

Pictures of the unrest in East Timor.


Related Video Related Video

The UN has set up a refugee camp for those escaping the increasing violence around the East Timor capital Dili.

Audio Related Audio

There is a sense of panic among thousands of Dili residents, who have packed up the few belongings they have and sought shelter at Catholic churches and convents.

Although gunshots could be heard in Dili overnight there seems to be calm as a new day dawns.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says there are roughly 650 rebels in the area and that the Australian troops will be facing a dangerous mission.

A group of Australians who fled the East Timorese capital of Dili arrived in Darwin last night and shared their experiences on the strife in the capital.

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