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Wednesday, September 15, 1999 Published at 12:57 GMT 13:57 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

UN approves Timor force

Australian troops are ready to go into East Timor

The United Nations Security Council has voted unanimously to send in an Australian-led multi-national peacekeeping force to East Timor.

East Timor

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said an advance contingent would be on the ground in East Timor by the weekend "at the latest".

The UN resolution, gives the intervention force a broad mandate to use "all necessary measures" to restore order in East Timor.

The BBC's David Willis on the increasing unrest in Jakarta
It states that the force should be a multi-national operation with a unified command structure, mandated to restore peace and security.

The plan is that the force should be deployed for four months, before handing over to a fully fledged UN peacekeeping operation.

'Australia ready'

[ image: The lucky ones: Timorese children who have been evacuated to Australia]
The lucky ones: Timorese children who have been evacuated to Australia
Australian Prime Minister John Howard said earlier that his government was ready to send troops into East Timor as soon as the United Nations gave the go-ahead.

Mr Howard said it was imperative to get a multi-national force into Timor as soon as possible to end what he called the intolerable conditions there.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said he had agreed during talks at the UN with the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Ali Alatas, that Australia was the only country which could feasibly lead it.

The BBC's Clive Myrie: "The Australians will be taking the lead"
But he said his country did not want to go into East Timor alone. "This will be genuine multi-national force, it will have a significant number of countries participating in it," he said.

Commenting on the Security Council vote, which came after negotiations late into the night, British UN Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock, who introduced the draft, said: "It is not often that the UN works as quickly as this."

Ali Alatas: A cautious welcome
"I hope this shows that the council has got its business in the right order, has got its priorities right and has moved with speed to follow up the secretary-general's call for action."

On a visit to New Zealand, US President Bill Clinton said he wanted to see the first members of the force in East Timor as soon as the United Nations had passed a resolution authorising its deployment. He said he hoped this would be within the next three days.

Dangers ahead

[ image:  ]
Australian Prime Minister John Howard, meanwhile, sought to prepare Australians for the risks involved.

"There could be casualties. And the Australian public should understand that. It is a serious, dangerous operation," he said in comments broadcast by Radio Australia.

Australia has taken the lead in putting together the peacekeeping contingent, which could have up to 8,000 soldiers.

Australian Defence Minister John Moore is not concerned about the resentment of the presence of Australian forces in Indonesia
The Philippines has said it is ready to send up to 500 troops as an interim force, while South Korea announced it was ready to commit 300 troops as well as medical and engineering personnel.

Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia are also expected to provide troops.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas, who is at the UN, said his country would not seek to impose any conditions on the composition or deployment of the expected UN peacekeepers.


Jose Ramos Horta: "It is totally unacceptable for Indonesian troops to remain in East Timor"
As the Security Council session got under way, East Timorese leader Jose Ramos Horta called for Indonesian troops to be withdrawn or strictly confined to barracks once a peacekeeping force arrives.

Meanwhile in the East Timorese capital Dili, the UN evacuated its compound, leaving behind only about a dozen staff at another location in the territory.

The empty headquarters is reported to have been torched by anti-independence militias.

Click here for a map of the area

More than 1,000 refugees sheltering in the compound also left in the emergency airlift by the Australian airforce.

The militias had been terrorising the UN compound as part of their campaign against the majority of East Timorese who voted for independence from Indonesia in the referendum two weeks ago.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has warned that more than 200,000 people are threatened by famine in East Timor.

Latest reports from East Timor suggest that the mass deportation of the population is continuing unabated.

The systematic destruction of the East Timorese capital Dili is also reported to be proceeding, with truckloads of militiamen, usually accompanied by soldiers, looting homes and shops before destroying them.

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