The security situation in East Timor has deteriorated since multinational peacekeepers arrived Monday, with militiamen opposed to the territory's independence from Indonesia targeting journalists and hungry residents looting government-owned food warehouses. Early today, gunfire crackled across the city, and peacekeepers reportedly came under sniper fire.

Despite the problems, the Australian-led peacekeepers extended their control in the territory on Wednesday, landing in its second-largest town, Baukau, and expanding their presence here in the capital.

As thousands of fearful residents returned to Dili after taking refuge from the militias and their backers in the Indonesian military in the mountains three weeks ago, looters made off with sacks of rice, flour and cooking oil before a contingent of armed Australian peacekeepers drove them back. "We were hungry," said a man carrying a bag of rice.

This morning, gunmen in trees fired at a house in Dili commandeered by the peacekeepers, the Associated Press reported. There was no immediate word of casualties. Earlier, shots were fired near a sports stadium where people were seeking protection from militias. Dozens of people scurried for cover.

Officials of the peacekeeping force said the militiamen--who had carried out a campaign of violence after East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia on Aug. 30--began asserting themselves by turning their fire on unprotected reporters and photographers.

A Dutch journalist working for the British newspaper Financial Times was shot to death Tuesday. The body of the correspondent, Sander Thoenes, 30, was found Wednesday morning behind an abandoned house after a Timorese driver, Florindo Araujo, said six men in Indonesian police uniforms fired at them in a Dili suburb.

"My motorcycle fell on the ground and dragged both of us for about 100 meters. The journalist fell on the asphalt," said Araujo, according to the Reuters news service. "They continued shooting and I ran off to the jungle. They chased after me and continued shooting but I ran off, losing one of my shoes."

Wednesday afternoon, an Irish journalist riding a motorbike in the city center said she heard a gunshot and felt the compression of a bullet pass her head. And on Wednesday morning, British, Australian and Indonesian troops retrieved two other journalists who had been attacked Tuesday and spent the night hiding in the bush. Their driver and a translator are still missing.

The attacks on journalists were "a warning of the dangers," said Australian Maj. Gen. Peter Cosgrove, commander of the multinational force. He urged journalists not to move beyond the areas under the control of his soldiers.

Those areas expanded Wednesday, with about 150 helicopter-borne troops landing in Baukau. They secured the airport, Brig. Mark Evans, commander of the land forces, told the Associated Press.

In Dili, the international forces remained clustered around the airport, the port, and a half dozen other buildings on Wednesday. But Cosgrove said that his forces were expanding their control in the capital. "I have teams surveying some of the inland villages," he said. "We are starting to deploy there.

"It's been quite a dangerous 24 hours. There have been some signs of the militias becoming agitated by the return" of displaced East Timorese. "The militias are attempting to step up some militaristic moves as a show that not all is secure."

In the western part of East Timor, Taur Matan Ruak, the leader of the independence guerrillas, told Portuguese radio that his forces had killed 12 Indonesian soldiers in clashes Wednesday, Reuters reported.

The guerrilla chief told the radio the situation in much of East Timor is "still complicated," with the militias and elements of the Indonesian army engaging in sporadic violence.

In Baukau, the destruction was continuing, he said, despite the presence of the international troops.

The Indonesian army recruited and supplied the armed militias in their bid to disrupt last month's referendum. When they failed--East Timorese voted for independence by a 78.5 percent majority with a 98 percent voter turnout--the militias erupted in a frenzy of violence. Indonesia occupied East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, in 1975 and annexed it the following year.

Witnesses consistently said Indonesian soldiers participated in the violence, but they are now under orders by Indonesian President B.J. Habibie to cooperate with the multinational forces.

While they seem to be doing that, they also are completing a scorched earth policy as they pull out, torching their compounds as they leave.

The government in Jakarta announced that martial law in East Timor will be lifted soon because the situation is almost back to normal.

The Indonesian forces have cooperated, or at least not interfered, as the multinational soldiers in Dili have begun to disarm and arrest militiamen at checkpoints, but the army has at the same time provided trucks that appear to be ferrying militiamen out of the city.

CAPTION: Hungry East Timorese ransack a government-owned food warehouse in the devastated capital, Dili, stealing sacks of rice, flour and cooking oil. A group of armed Australian peacekeepers arrived later to drive off the looters.