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UN: Countries Commit Troops To East Timor Peacekeeping

  • Joe Lauria

The world rallied to the defense of the terrorized East Timorese people yesterday, lining up troops for a multinational peacekeeping force. The force could confront Indonesian troops and marauding gunmen by the weekend. RFE/RL correspondent Joe Lauria reports.

United Nations, 16 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Thirteen countries have pledged men and equipment to the Australian-led multinational peacekeeping force in East Timor. The force will attempt to end weeks of violence by pro-Jakarta militia and elements of the Indonesian army. Thousands of East Timorese independence supporters have reportedly been killed.

The peacekeeping force was approved unanimously by the UN Security Council early yesterday morning. The council gave the force the right to use "all necessary means" to accomplish its task.

Australian and Gurkha troops will constitute the first wave of the force. The United States will provide planes and pilots to transport the peacekeepers into East Timor. Americans will also contribute logistical, communications, and intelligence support.

Australia is to provide the bulk of the combat troops, 4,500 soldiers. Portugal -- the former colonial ruler of East Timor -- will send 1,000, and the Philippines up to 1,200. France, Thailand, New Zealand, Britain, Italy, Canada, and South Korea will each send contingents numbering several hundred.

Singapore has pledged 21 medical personnel, and Sweden 10 civilian police officers. Finland has pledged $1 million in aid.

Several other countries, such as China, Russia, Malaysia, Fiji, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Argentina, have also said they would help.

The mission could be dangerous because the Indonesian government has so far been unable or unwilling to stop its troops from supporting marauding gunmen who have terrorized the civilian population.

The UN says at least 7,000 East Timorese have died since the UN-run referendum on Aug. 30, which showed overwhelming support for independence. Another 200,000 have been forcibly driven from their homes.

High-ranking Indonesian and Australian military officers have held talks here the past two days to ensure cooperation rather than confrontation between their troops.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said at the UN in New York: "In terms of the way the multinational force will work with the Indonesian military, so far in our talks that has been coming together quite well." He added: "We are at the point now where there is a wide measure of agreement, and I can't see where there should be a problem."

Ali Alatas, the Indonesian foreign minister, met with Downer and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday. Alatas said: "There is a general understanding that there will be general cooperation between the two in the sense that the overall command or responsibility for restoring peace and security will now of course revert to the multinational force."

Alatas said Indonesian troops would have "no active combat role anymore" but would not be confined to barracks. So far there is no timetable for their withdrawal to Indonesia.

Alatas said the Indonesian national assembly could possibly meet earlier than the end of October to ratify the East Timorese vote of independence. That would allow the Indonesian troops to go home and let the UN take complete control of the new nation.

Despite Downer's and Alatas's upbeat assessments, there were continuing signs yesterday that Indonesian soldiers and the militia may not be so cooperative with the multinational force. Filomeno Kornai, leader of one militia group, warned that his men would "eat the hearts of those that come to East Timor." Another militia member was quoted by CNN as saying, "If UN troops want to come, let them come. Let the Australians come so we can defeat them."

Other militiamen were reported to be fleeing East Timor, however, fearful the Indonesian military would kill them to wipe out evidence of the military's complicity in the killings and forced deportations.

"The Indonesian Army wants to exterminate the militia because they want to take away all trace," one refugee told the Sydney Morning Herald.

But Alatas said: "We will try to prevent violence of any sort between the East Timorese themselves or between some segments of the East Timorese against the multinational forces...I don't think there will be any fighting anymore."

Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation in East Timor continued to worsen yesterday as the 200,000 displaced civilians spent another day largely without food and water. UN personnel ventured out of Dili for the first time in weeks yesterday, delivering rice to about 30,000 people hiding in the hills above the city of Dare.