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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tensions Delay Deliveries of Food Aid

DILI, Indonesia -- Australia delayed vital air drops of food Thursday to tens of thousands of East Timorese who have fled their homes in the wake of a terror campaign by Indonesian military-backed militias.

The Indonesian military said it expected an advance team of an Australian-led peacekeeping force to arrive in the former Portuguese colony Saturday.

About 2,500 members of the 7,000-member force were to arrive Monday, said Major General Kiki Syahnakri, operations commander in East Timor.

Pledging full cooperation, Kiki said Indonesia would pull out all its troops - a dozen battalions comprising 9,000 soldiers - next week.

However, he said he opposed dropping emergency food supplies, saying it might create tension between refugees who support and oppose independence in the Indonesian territory.

In Darwin, Australia, Defense Minister John Moore said Indonesia had yet to give diplomatic clearance for the air drops.

He said international peacekeepers needed to be on the ground before the operation begins. "You just can't fly over and drop it,'' Moore said.

The delay posed an immediate threat to at least 200,000 East Timorese who the United Nations says are at risk of starvation in the hills and forests of their ravaged homeland. The drops were scheduled to begin Thursday.

General Wiranto, Indonesia's military chief, said he would not block operations of the peacekeeping force, which was approved Wednesday by the UN Security Council in New York. Wiranto, like many Indonesians, uses only one name.

In East Timor's shattered capital of Dili, Wiranto's soldiers handed out sacks of rice to refugees. Troops fired into the air to chase away a few pro-Indonesian militia members who burned houses.

Refugees camping under tarpaulins on the dock and outside the governor's office monitored the news from UN headquarters on battery-powered radios.

"The international troops will return things to normal. All of us now are waiting for them'' said Joao da Silva, 23.

The half-island territory has been gripped by widespread violence since UN officials announced Sept. 4 that voters had overwhelmingly approved independence in an Aug. 30 referendum.

A backlash by military-backed armed groups has killed hundreds and possibly thousands of people and forced at least 300,000 from their homes.

Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975, unleashing human rights abuses and a low-level rebel war. The United Nations has never recognized Indonesian authority there.

Indonesia said Thursday that it was breaking off a four-year-old security treaty with Australia, which has harshly criticized Jakarta for its handling of the East Timor crisis.

It was seen as a largely symbolic move because the treaty is a broadly worded agreement recognizing only mutual interests in the region and pledging cooperation between the two nations.