East Timor, the eastern half of the island of Timor in south east Asia, was colonized by the Dutch in the 16th century. The country gained independence in 1975 but later the same year was invaded, absorbed and repressed by Indonesia. In the ensuing struggle for liberation from Indonesia, over 100,000 Timorese died. In 1999, Indonesia agreed to a UN-supervised referendum to choose between special autonomy within Indonesia and independence. When the referendum took place, 78 per cent of the population voted for independence. Violent clashes, instigated by elements within the Indonesian military, broke out soon afterwards.

A UN force led by the Australians went in to East Timor on 20th September 99 to establish and maintain peace. I gained access with British troops and a small group of journalists. Indonesian forces and their militias had been responsible for many human rights abuses. As the Indonesian troops prepared to leave East Timor for the last time, the militias set fire to government and church buildings in Dili and other towns across East Timor.