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Wednesday, September 8, 1999 Published at 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Analysis: The West's reluctance to act

Madeleine Albright: Indonesia responsible for restoring order

By Diplomatic Correspondent Barnaby Mason

The big powers continue to emphasise that it is impossible to send a peacekeeping force into East Timor against the wishes of Indonesia.

The American Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, said the Indonesians had the primary responsibility for restoring order.

East Timor
The Japanese Foreign Minister, Masahiko Komura, said now was not the time to discuss what to do if Jakarta did not fulfil its obligation.

No one would send a force to fight its way into East Timor against the Indonesian army. But even putting heavy pressure on Indonesia is a delicate matter.

Regional player

For the Americans and others, it is a critically important state in the region, both politically and economically.

[ image: Britain is equally cautious about Western intervention]
Britain is equally cautious about Western intervention
Indonesia is in the midst of a transition to a more democratic system; forcing the government to accept international intervention might enable the military to play the nationalist card and make a come-back, even if few anticipate an outright coup.

The big powers are also anxious to do nothing to encourage turbulent regions of Indonesia to break away; they stress that East Timor is a special case.

Economic sanctions could be used against Jakarta, through a freeze on international aid.

But other governments are wary of tipping a precarious financial situation over the edge and triggering another collapse that would have an impact all over Asia.

Economic interests

Indonesia also owes many billions of dollars to Japanese, American and European banks - and they are counting on growth and stability to get their money back.

Author on East Timor, John Taylor: "The international community should hang its head in shame"
There are other economic interests too. France and Britain export hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of arms to Indonesia, something which has become a hot issue in Britain at least.

And Australia has oil interests in the Timor Sea. Australia feels especially vulnerable to instability in Indonesia, a huge neighbour just to the north with a population of more than 200 million.

[ image: Part of the caution is because Indonesia is in transition]
Part of the caution is because Indonesia is in transition
The Australians want to help East Timor, but are particularly inhibited by the fact that they actually recognised Indonesia's annexation of the territory back in 1979.

If it does come to the UN authorising a peacekeeping force, China's agreement would be necessary. The Chinese are opposed to anything that might in any way resemble an Asian version of the Kosovo intervention.

They are also cautious about Indonesia because of the vulnerability of its ethnic Chinese minority.

The Chinese President, Jiang Zemin, said in Canberra that hotspots like East Timor should be resolved through peaceful negotiations and dialogue.

All these obstacles are not an absolute bar to international intervention in East Timor. But they make decisive action improbable.

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