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Wednesday, September 15, 1999 Published at 09:11 GMT 10:11 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Analysis: UN faces tricky operation

A US helicopter gunship[ under fire in Somalia in 1993

By Diplomatic Correspondent Barnaby Mason

Following Indonesia's decision to allow international peacekeepers into East Timor, the lessons of previous United Nations operations that went wrong will again be in the minds of those trying to turn the force into a rapid reality.

East Timor
In 1993 in Somalia, the UN was dragged into a war with the militias of the warlord Mohammed Farah Aideed. Pakistani and American soldiers were killed, and the UN command had no control of operations by American forces.

The UN force in Bosnia in the early 1990s did not have a strong mandate to protect civilians, and military operations were hampered by the need to get prior approval from UN civilian officials.

This was the notorious dual key - the divided command that Nato has sworn ever since to avoid.

The spectre has been raised again by Jakarta's insistence that the UN-authorised force in East Timor will have to work in effective collaboration with the Indonesian military, which is blamed for instigating or colluding in the violence against the population.

The talk is of a force of about 7,000, but the Australian Government says that will be enough only with the total co-operation of the Indonesian army.

One question is whether the army will continue to back, tacitly or otherwise, the anti-independence militias whose numbers have been put as high as 20,000.

Disarming the militias

A major task for the international force will be to disarm the militias, as well as the pro-independence guerrillas, in order to guarantee security for humanitarian relief, reconstruction and nation-building.

But a question-mark remains over how quickly it can be deployed. The Indonesian Government has not laid out any timetable.

Although the military has backed the deployment, there are suspicions that it may intend to drag things out, counting on protracted arguments over the details.

There's no specific commitment to allowing the deployment before the Indonesian Parliament has ratified the East Timor referendum result.

That is not due to happen for many weeks yet and cannot be taken as a foregone conclusion.

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