Last week, militias killed three U.N. aid workers in neighboring West Timor and other gangs have killed two U.N. peacekeepers in East Timor in recent clashes.
"We want to provide aid and we don't want anyone getting in our way," said Marine spokesman Lt. Jeff Landis. "Any militia activity that goes on in our presence, we won't tolerate. We will basically get the aid to where it needs to go."
Landis said about 4,000 troops arrived aboard four U.S. ships. The vessels included the guided missile carrier USS Bunker Hill and three amphibious vessels: USS Tarawa, Delouth and Anchorage.
The vessels were carrying tons of building materials and food for the island territory. The ships will leave East Timor on Saturday.
U.S. navy ships have brought in aid to East Timor several times in the past year.
However, Landis said a recent assessment determined that a warship was now needed to protect the aid and the Marines delivering it from possible militia attack.
"If fired upon we are allowed to fire back in kind, with the same type of weaponry," he said
The militias are the same gangs who opposed East Timor's independence from Indonesian rule last year.
At that time they went on a rampage, killing hundreds and destroying thousands of buildings. The mayhem only ended when international peacekeepers arrived.
Since then the militias have fled to Indonesian West Timor where they have used border refugee camps as bases for attacks into East Timor.
The Tarawa, with helicopters and Harrier jump jets, is delivering aid to the capital, Dili.
The Delouth is anchored near the southern border town of Suai, and the Anchorage and Bunker Hill are off the isolated enclave of Oecusse. Both Suai and Oecusse have seen rising militia activity in recent times.
"We are here for humanitarian reasons and we feel that there's no reason why we should have to use any force to get the aid through," said Landis.
The U.S. mission is operating independently of East Timor's current U.N. administration, which is preparing the territory for full independence within two years. It is also separate from a U.N. peacekeeping force.
"It's really about us trying to lend a hand to the East Timorese for their transition to independence and help them rebuild their country, and have a stable government and democracy," said Landis.
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