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Tuesday, September 7, 1999 Published at 21:59 GMT 22:59 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Analysis: Will the world intervene?

Thousands of East Timorese have fled militia violence

By UN Correspondent Mark Devenport

Pressure is growing for an international force to be deployed in East Timor to stop the carnage and to protect tens of thousands of civilians now being terrorised by pro-Indonesian militias.

East Timor
Senior officials at the UN share the sense of urgency, not least because their own personnel have been in the firing line.

But as ever, in such times of crisis, the UN - which has no standing army of its own - is at the mercy of its member states.

A number of neighbouring countries, including Australia and New Zealand, have indicated that they will provide troops for an international force.

Philippa Thomas: "The chaos in East Timor has come as a rude awakening to Capitol Hill"
But they are not going to invade against Indonesian opposition.

The simple fact is, that with an estimated 20,000 troops deployed in East Timor, the Indonesian armed forces are too big for any of the neighbouring countries to take on.

Beyond this military reality, there are additional political reasons for the international community's delay.

Indonesia is not without friends, especially amongst the Islamic nations.

The BBC's Rob Watson assesses USA policy on East Timor
On the UN Security Council, Bahrain and Indonesia's neighbour, Malaysia have expressed particular reluctance about any move which does not have Jakarta's approval.

China, one of the five permanent members of the Council, is generally opposed to any interference in the internal affairs of a state.


The international community has not generally recognised Indonesia's annexation of East Timor - but Jakarta argues that, until its parliament ratifies the result of the recent independence vote, the territory remains its responsibility.

[ image: Many East Timorese want troops sent in]
Many East Timorese want troops sent in
That ratification is due to take place in November - which is also the date originally planned for the deployment of an international peacekeeping force by the UN to East Timor.

If martial law does not dramatically improve the situation on the ground in the next 24 to 48 hours, the pressure will grow immensely on Jakarta to ask for assistance.

Australia's soldiers could deploy within 72 hours. Australia is prepared to lead a multi-lateral force, but wants other countries to participate, especially the world's superpower the United States.

US reticence

In the mainstream domestic US media, however, the intensifying violence in East Timor is still not an especially big story.

[ image: Indonesians think the UN is interfering]
Indonesians think the UN is interfering
As he did with Kosovo, President Clinton would have to get out a map and tell Americans where the far off territory is.

With Congress always sceptical about US military involvement abroad, the White House shows no inclination to do much more than voicing its approval for intervention with Indonesian consent.

All the while, the killings and the expulsions go on, and, with the memory of past genocides in mind, the international community contemplates the dreadful consequences of delay and inaction.

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