New York, 15 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- An Australian-led multinational peacekeeping force poised to restore order to East Timor received a green light from the UN Security Council early today. The force could be in place as early as Friday to confront the marauding gunmen who have been terrorizing the civilian population.
After 10 hours of closed-door debate, the Security Council in New York voted unanimously (15-0) to authorize the force to use "all necessary means" to halt the brutal campaign being waged by anti-independence militia in the territory.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the first wave of Australian and British Gurkha troops should leave its staging area in Darwin, Australia, by the weekend. The troops would be joined later by peacekeepers from several other nations.
In Christchurch, New Zealand, U.S. President Bill Clinton today called for all nations participating in the force to hold joint military exercises to prepare for the mission. He said the force was necessary because Indonesia had failed to stop the militiamen, who the UN says have killed several thousand East Timorese and displaced hundreds of thousands more over the past two weeks.
Australia is to lead the contingent, expected to number from 7,000 to 8,000 troops. The U.S. will contribute about 100 logistical, communications and intelligence personnel but no combat troops. Troops from Asia are expected to make up the bulk of the rest of the force.
Downer said the decision to put Australia in command was given formal approval yesterday by Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas. Indonesia had said earlier that it would reject the presence of Australians in the peacekeeping force, saying Australia was prejudiced against Indonesia.
The Security Council said in its resolution that it looks forward to close cooperation between the multinational force and the Indonesian government. The resolution condemned the violence that Indonesia has been unable or unwilling to stop, and called for those responsible to be brought to justice.
The province has been overrun by violence since August 30, when East Timorese supporters of independence from Indonesia overwhelmingly won a UN-run referendum. Pro-Jakarta troops and army-backed militia then unleashed their campaign of terror against independence supporters.
Correspondents say several issues are still unresolved, including how long Indonesian troops will stay in the territory after the multinational force arrives, and what role the Indonesians will play.
Jose Ramos-Horta, a Nobel peace prize winner and the leader of the pro-independence movement, is quoted as saying that having Indonesian troops operate alongside the multinational force would create a potentially explosive situation. He said it would be an "insult to the people of East Timor."
Ramos-Horta also said Indonesian troops are destroying government files containing data on military officers and militia members who, he says, are responsible for war crimes. Yesterday, Indonesian troops pillaged the former UN compound in Dili after staff and local residents seeking refuge in the compound were evacuated.
The UN Food and Agricultural Organization in Rome, meanwhile, says at least 7,000 East Timorese have been killed in the violence and 100,000 forcibly deported to West Timor, a part of Indonesia. As many as 400,000 people -- half the population of East Timor -- have been internally displaced, and a quarter of the people have been cut off from food and water.
East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, was forcibly annexed by Indonesia in the 1970s. The move was never recognized by the United Nations.