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Friday, September 3, 1999 Published at 14:44 GMT 15:44 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Analysis: World powers mull armed presence

The message from many East Timorese is clear

By Diplomatic Correspondent Barnaby Mason

The United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, Mary Robinson, says there may be an urgent need for an armed UN presence in East Timor.

East Timor
But big powers like the United States and Britain are still emphasising that the immediate responsibility for restoring order lies with the Indonesians.

Many would agree that having taken on the job of organising the referendum in East Timor, the international community has an obligation to see that the will of the people is carried out.

But Mary Robinson's hope that urgent planning for an armed UN presence is already going on seems misplaced - at least to judge by remarks by American and British officials.

[ image: The UN wants Indonesia to bring the militias under control]
The UN wants Indonesia to bring the militias under control
Their message is that it may have to be considered if the Indonesian authorities don't live up to their responsibilities.

A State Department spokesman said the administration was pressing Jakarta at the highest levels to restore order and disarm the militias.

There is no sign, though, that the big powers are exerting real leverage by threatening to halt economic aid or impose an arms embargo.

They may be less inhibited once the result of the referendum is declared and if - as expected - it shows a substantial majority in favour of independence.


The American spokesman said that in a transition to independence, the UN mission in East Timor would logically include a security force of some kind. Its nature was a matter for discussion in New York.

As in previous crises, the leisurely impression given by such remarks is at variance with the chaos and violence on the ground.

British officials highlighted two problems:

  • Even after a Security Council resolution it would take several weeks to assemble a peacekeeping force, so it wasn't an immediate solution
  • Many of the potential contributors were heavily engaged in the Balkans

But Australia, as a neighbour of Indonesia, said it could deploy troops in East Timor very quickly.

Defence Minister John Moore suggested that troops on standby to evacuate Australian citizens from the territory might form the vanguard of a UN force.

New Zealand also says it would be willing to contribute. But nothing will be done without Indonesia's agreement.

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