United Nations peacekeepers in East Timor are on high alert after reports that anti-independence militia are planning attacks on them. The threat comes as Indonesia formally hands over control of the region to the multinational force tomorrow.

An aerial survey of remote parts of East Timor has found a largely empty landscape with many towns burned to the ground. The survey was carried out by relief workers in the west of the territory, in order to assess the humanitarian needs of the region. The head of the UN relief operation said that up to 90 per cent of some settlements had been burned by anti-independence militias. Another UN team has been sent to try to reach the refugees across the border in West Timor, to which an estimated 200,000 people have fled from the recent violence in the east.

The Commander of the United Nations peacekeepers in East Timor, Peter Cosgrove has rejected suggestions that his peacekeeping operation is poor compared to the military intervention in Kosovo. Most of the Indonesian troops remaining in the territory are due to pull out by the end of today, leaving only a token presence. But there have been persistent reports that anti-independence militias are preparing for action against the UN forces.

United Nations peacekeepers have made their first long journey outside the East Timorese capital Dili, to escort an aid convoy on a mission to the east of the territory. Helicopters and armoured personel carriers flanked the aid workers during the trip to the second largest city Baucow. They are trying to assess how to get food to the hundreds of thousands refugees who fled their homes to escape the fighting.

The Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Liz O'Donnell, T.D., today announced the allocation of £400,000 in humanitarian assistance to help the people of East Timor. This is the first part of the £1 million package of assistance agreed recently by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, David Andrews. The funding is being allocated to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the United Nations Children's Fund and to the United Nations office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.