Hickam offers support in conflict
Two C-17 cargo jets are being used to help in Australian peacekeeping efforts
The U.S. Pacific Air Forces have sent two C-17 Globemaster cargo jets from Hickam Air Force Base to assist Australia in positioning personnel and equipment for peacekeeping operations in East Timor, which is on the brink of civil war.
Col. Mark Tapper, chief of staff for Pacific Air Forces' Kenney Headquarters at Hickam, told reporters yesterday that he expects at least a half-dozen C-17 missions will be flown by crews of the Hickam unit.
Tapper stressed that these missions are "to help the Australians move their equipment" and said the flights will be mainly assisting in positioning Australian defense forces personnel and equipment from the Solomon Islands to locations in Australia.
The Air Force said the two C-17 transports, which left Hickam last night, carried a total of 12 transportation specialists and cargo-loading equipment. The crews are members of the Air Force's 535th Airlift Squadron and the Hawaii Air National Guard's 204th Airlift Squadron.
A news release from the U.S. Pacific Command at Camp Smith said it was responding to requests from the Australian Defense Force. "The political situation in Dili remains fragile, and violence is ongoing. East Timor has asked for international assistance from Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Portugal."
Australia has said it will send up to 1,300 troops, ships, helicopters and armored personnel carriers to the Southeast Asian country, which has been hit by a series of gunbattles between renegade troops and government forces.
In East Timor, soldiers fired on unarmed police in the capital yesterday, killing nine and wounding 27, as international troops struggled to end the fighting that threatens to push the country closer to civil war.
Among the wounded were two United Nations police advisers, part of U.N. staff trying to end the hour-long attack by soldiers on the national police headquarters in Dili, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in New York.
The U.N. police and military advisers negotiated a cease-fire with the Timorese soldiers, under which the police officers were to surrender their weapons and leave the building, Dujarric said.
The unrest in East Timor is the most serious threat to the desperately poor country since it won independence from Indonesia in 1999, and the attack on policemen illustrates the dangers facing peacekeepers from Australia, New Zealand, Portugal and Malaysia, the first of whom arrived yesterday.
The U.N. Security Council urged the government of East Timor to take "all necessary steps" to end the violence.
Today, the hills surrounding Dili reverberated with mortar and heavy machine-gun fire. The streets in the city were virtually deserted, with frightened residents holed up in their homes, schools and churches.
An Associated Press photographer saw the badly burned bodies of six people, children among them, in one house. They were among 25 people who have died in recent fighting between the 800-member army and a band of about 600 dismissed soldiers.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.