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Wednesday, September 15, 1999 Published at 11:12 GMT 12:12 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Australians prepare for tough mission

4,500 Australian troops could lead the multinational force

By Clive Myrie in Darwin, northern Australia

The Australians say they are ready to go into East Timor. With up to 4,500 troops on standby to go into the territory it is the country's biggest army, navy and air force deployment since Vietnam.

East Timor
A veteran of that war, Major-General Peter Cosgrove will lead the world's attempt to restore order to East Timor.

It is thought that up to 8,000 troops could be involved, using Darwin as a bridge-head for the operation.

John Moore, the Australian Defence Minister says his country's forces are ready for action: "We really are in a good position to be able to lead any coalition force for deployment by the weekend."

[ image: It is the biggest operation for Australia's army, navy and air force since Vietnam]
It is the biggest operation for Australia's army, navy and air force since Vietnam
What the peacekeepers will find is a land ravaged by days of violence and destruction - homes and communities destroyed. Civil society is in chaos and the population is living in fear.

But Australian one soldier told us: "We are a professional and well prepared force and we are confident that we can deliver in terms of what we are called to do. "

Another said: "I think everyone's frightened at one point in their life and you'd be a fool to say you're not scared. But it all comes down to training and how you react to different scenarios."

Indonesian army doubts

The peacekeepers will also find thousands of Indonesian troops when they arrive. There are many who say they shouldn't be trusted after evidence of collusion with East Timor's murderous pro-Jakarta militias.

Clive Myrie reports from Darwin Bay on the gathering forces
British Military Liaison officer Lt Col Nigel Dransfield says the forces are acutely aware of the Indonesian army problem: "They are part and parcel of the militia that was doing the damage in Dili. Therefore any force that goes into East Timor has got to be very careful."

A dangerous operation

As the military build up continues the Australian Prime Minister John Howard has made it clear to the public that there could be problems.

On a television interview he told them: "There will be danger, there could be casualties and the Australian public should understand that. It is a serious, dangerous operation."

[ image: Peacekeepers may have to be peace-enforcers first]
Peacekeepers may have to be peace-enforcers first
This of course will be a multi-national force. Britain along with many other countries will be offering logistical support, warships and troops.

HMS Glasgow is moored in Darwin Bay and will carry the UK Army's contribution to the force of 250 ghurkas. On board, Royal Navy Commander John King, told BBC News that the troops knew it would not be an easy mission but were prepared of the job ahead.

He said he could reach Dili in under 24 hours.

But it is the Australians who will be taking the lead in one of their biggest military operations since the second world war.

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