Advance units of a UN multi-national force of 7,000 troops are expected to arrive in East Timor by the weekend. In a unanimous vote authorising the force, the Security Council called for all necessary measures to halt the killing and destruction in the former Portuguese colony. Australia, which will lead the operation, said the force could stay in East Timor, for up to three years. The peacekeepers have been assembling in Darwin. Forty Irish troops - including members of the Army's elite Ranger Wing - are expected to join the multinational force. It is hoped food and medical supplies can be air-dropped to refugees hiding in mountains outside the capital Dili within the next 24 hours.

Indonesia has said that it welcomes the nomination of Australia to lead the UN force. There had been concern that Indonesia might refuse to allow Australian troops into East Timor, because of Canberra's opposition to Indonesian rule in the territory. The Security Council voted unanimously in favour of the resolution, drafted by Britain, which will allow the force to enter the region and take all necessary measures to carry out its mandate. The move is aimed at halting the widespread killings and destruction in the former Portuguese colony. The violence there broke out after the referendum at the end of last month in which an overwhelming majority of voters called for independence for the territory.

Australia has agreed to lead the peacekeeping operation, providing more than half of the 8,000 troops. Australia’s Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer acknowledged that the peacekeeping operation would be fraught with danger, but said that it had to be implemented following the violence of the last week. He said that the violence had struck at the heart of the international community and that it had to respond effectively. The Australian authorities are holding a number of people suspected to be members of anti-independence militias who arrived yesterday with the last convoy of refugees from the UN compound in Dili.

Indonesia has said it will co-operate with the peacekeeping force, but the East Timorese independence leader, Jose Ramos Horta has called for the withdrawal of all Indonesia’s troops from the territory. In an interview he said that having Indonesian troops alongside a multinational force was an insult and would create an explosive situation. In such circumstances, he said that it would be impossible to control the emotions of the East Timorese.

Meanwhile, in the Indonesian capital Jakarta, police have fired shots in the air to break up an anti-government demonstration outside a United Nations building. One report said the protestors were also beaten. They were demanding independence for East Timor and for a halt to the violence there. The situation in West Timor is also volatile, with unconfirmed reports of a massacre of pro-independence supporters.