Thousands of people are huddled on a mountainside here beneath shelters of palm fronds, listening to the drone of scores of planes ferrying peacekeeping troops, supplies and salvation to the capital, Dili, a few miles away.
But the arrival of international forces has not coaxed these East Timorese from their hiding place, where they have been protected by rugged terrain and pro-independence guerrillas. Many say they will not return home until their Indonesian military tormentors leave the territory.
Escorted by guerrillas on a two-hour trek up a mountainside, a reporter found families hiding in flimsy shelters built into crevasses. They were hungry, but not starving. They were surviving on a diet of papaya leaves and a woody, potato-like root mixed with the little rice they had.
"This is how we lived for two weeks," said one woman. "The children do not have enough to eat. There is no medicine. Look at this baby," she said, motioning to an infant at her mother's breast. "This baby was born here. Is that any way to start life?"
Hundreds of thousands of East Timorese fled into the hills after a vote for independence from Indonesia triggered a convulsion of violence, and they are a major concern of international humanitarian agencies. Although some men began to trickle down into Dili on Tuesday, many simply scavenged for supplies and headed back to their families carrying large sacks on their heads, some barefoot on the rocky trail.
While the peacekeepers have helped restore some sense of security to Dili, areas just outside the capital remain fearful places with fresh evidence of violence by anti-independence militia groups and their supporters in the Indonesian military. Australian Maj. Gen. Peter Cosgrove, commander of the peacekeeping force, said his troops were investigating the shooting death of a man -- believed to be a correspondent for Britain's Financial Times newspaper -- in the Dili suburb of Becora. Times correspondent Sander Thoenes, a Dutch national, was reported missing Tuesday in Dili.
Between Dili and the hilltop refuge is a swath of destruction wrought by the militias. Along eight miles of back roads outside the capital, no house has been left unburned or undamaged, and some set afire recently continue to burn. The occupants of the houses were nowhere to be seen.
On one trail that leads into the foothills outside Dili, the wails of Guida Alvez pierced the air. She had just come down from the mountaintop to find her home destroyed. "This is the work of the military," she raged, brandishing a machete. Her four children and husband would rebuild only when the soldiers are gone, she said.
"We haven't gotten any order to come down from the mountain," said Mano Kehy, an official of the political arm of the pro-independence guerrilla movement. "We won't go down with the military there; it would be better for relief agencies to bring the food up here."
U.N. spokesman David Wimhurst said airdrops of food had been delayed for a second day because of heavy military air traffic at Dili's small airport. U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata said her organization would send missions into East Timor and western Timor -- part of a separate Indonesian province -- to assess the needs of people who have been driven from their homes by 2 1/2 weeks of killing, burning and looting.
The peacekeepers' mission is to restore order to East Timor, which was devastated by rampaging militias and elements of the military after the territory voted overwhelmingly on Aug. 30 for independence from Indonesia -- rather than autonomous status within the archipelago.
Cosgrove, the peacekeeping force commander, offered qualified assurances to displaced East Timorese about the anti-independence, or "pro-integration," forces in East Timor. "Dili is safe to the point that we are in here in some force," he said. "But Dili has been a flash point in the past, and there are still people who are pro-integration. Obviously bad blood exists."
More than 2,000 peacekeeping troops have arrived here so far, with 5,500 more still to come, and Cosgrove added: "It will still be a number of weeks, rather than days, before we are in a position to have a pervasive presence through the province."
But the troops at hand were enough to rescue two Western journalists who were ambushed by a militia gang while driving in central East Timor. An intervention force spokesman said Jon Swain, a reporter with Britain's Sunday Times, and U.S. photographer Chip Hires were unhurt in a recovery operation that involved helicopters and armored vehicles.
Otherwise, the verdant countryside outside Dili seemed empty and oddly quiet. Indonesian soldiers at an isolated post were setting fire to their own buildings, apparently intending to leave nothing behind as they prepared to withdraw. But Cosgrove refuted reports that all Indonesian troops would withdraw quickly from East Timor. "I'm expecting [Indonesian] personnel will stay for some time," he said. "They are cleaning out, but they will maintain a substantial presence."
Cosgrove noted with approval the increase in the number of civilians on the streets of Dili on Tuesday. "It was virtually a ghost town when I set foot here, and it is starting to come back," he said.
It still has a long way to go. With more than half its buildings destroyed and its infrastructure heavily damaged, Dili is a dark and frightened place at night and a monument to destruction by daylight.
On Tuesday, some families sent a scout, Abdul Gaffer, down from the mountains to see if it was safe to return to their homes. "I think I will bring my family down from the mountain tomorrow," said Gaffer, 30. Then he began the long trek back up.