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Sunday, September 12, 1999 Published at 23:52 GMT 00:52 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Habibie accepts Timor peacekeepers

Jakarta street vendors watch the president's address

Indonesian President BJ Habibie has announced he will accept an international peacekeeping force to "protect the people" of East Timor and has promised to implement the result of the independence ballot.

East Timor
In a televised address to the nation from the presidential palace in Jakarta, Mr Habibie said: "A couple of minutes ago, I called the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to inform him about our readiness to accept international peacekeeping forces in East Timor.

"Too many people have lost their lives since the beginning of the unrest. We cannot wait any longer. We have to stop the suffering immediately."

The announcement followed an emergency session of the Indonesian cabinet, at which the president was briefed by armed forces chief General Wiranto who visited the territory with a UN delegation on Saturday.

The Indonesian army issued a statement supporting the move.

BBC News' Matt Frei: A reluctant government buckled under pressure
"We respect the decision. This is best for the country, for the international community and for East Timor," said armed forces spokesman Major-General Sudrajat.

A spokesman for United States President Bill Clinton said he welcomed the decision, describing it as a "very positive development," which represented a stepping back from the brink for Indonesia.

(Click here for a map of the area)

[ image: Mrs Robinson:
Mrs Robinson: "Savage violations of human rights"
East Timorese independence leader Xanana Gusmao praised the move as "courageous". In East Timor's capital, Dili, there were scenes of jubilation among the refugees inside the UN compound, with people cheering and embracing each other.

The Prime Minister of Portugal, Antonio Guterres, said it was a moment of hope for the former Portugese territory, but also of concern because "between this moment and the moment when the troops actually enter East Timor there is an enormous risk ... that the Indonesian army, the militias could go on killing".

US President Bill Clinton welcomed the news, but he told reporters that the most important thing now was for President Habibe to make good on his statement, get the details worked out and get the force in in a hurry.

The BBC correspondent in Jakarta, David Willis, says President Habibie has caved in to intense international pressure to allow a peacekeeping force into the territory.

UN discussions

Independence leader Xanana Gusmao: "I want to commend President Habibie for today's decision"
The Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas would fly to New York "immediately" for discussions about the timing of the deployment with the UN secretary-general, President Habibie said.

A number of states including Australia and New Zealand have indicated that they will provide soldiers for the peacekeeping force.

[ image:  ]
Australia has offered to contribute up to 4,500 troops and to provide leadership.

Canberra has said that at least 6,000 peacekeepers will be needed, and several other Asian nations are expected to contribute to the force.

Mr Clinton has had talks with the Australian Prime Minister John Howard at the Apec summit in Auckland about how the US might help to airlift troops and possibly provide intelligence and communications.

The BBC's UN correspondent, Mark Devenport says the Security Council hopes the peacekeepers will be deployed throughout East Timor.

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres: "A moment of hope"
Only then, he says, will they discover the full scale of the destruction and killings carried out by pro-Indonesian militia groups and some elements of the Indonesian army in recent days.

'Continued violence'

The UN human rights commissioner, Mary Robinson, has called for an international war crimes tribunal to be set up to investigate what she called the savage violations of human rights in East Timor.

Mrs Robinson, who has been visiting refugees in the Australian city of Darwin, says the international community had to try to identify the main perpetrators of atrocities in the territory.

Earlier on Sunday, there were unconfirmed reports from East Timor that Indonesian troops and militiamen had attacked refugees in the town of Dare, 10km (six miles) to the south of the capital, Dili.

In telephone calls from around the town, local people spoke of attacks on the thousands of refugees who have gathered there.

There has been no independent confirmation of the shootings or any word on casualties. The Indonesian authorities deny it and say the situation in Dare is calm.

[ image:  ]

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