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Wednesday, September 15, 1999 Published at 12:34 GMT 13:34 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Troops gear up for Timor

Australia is preparing to lead the multi-national UN force

By Defence Correspondent Jonathan Marcus

Speed is now vital, not just to begin the process of restoring order in East Timor, but also to bring food and humanitarian aid to many thousands of people who have fled their homes.

East Timor
The Australian Government, whose military will be spearheading the operation, seems confident that it can have advance units on the ground between two and three days after receiving the green light to deploy.

Light armoured vehicles have already been loaded onto a transport ship. And a high speed catamaran and supply vessel are both on stand-by off the Australian port of Darwin.

From there it is only some 850km by sea to East Timor's principal city - Dili.

The mandate for the multi-national force is robust; and with good reason. The final make-up of the force is not clear. But it may ultimately involve contributions from several countries.

Anti-Australian sentiment

But Australian troops will probably constitute its largest element and they are likely to arrive first. Nobody can be certain as to the situation they will find on the ground.

Some Australian newspapers have voiced unease at the anti-Australian sentiments that have been whipped up by some Indonesian politicians over recent days.

The multi-national force - expected eventually to number some six to seven thousand - could face a tough job.

The UN resolution expresses the hope of close co-operation between the peacekeepers and the Indonesian military.

This may well be the critical issue. Will elements of the Indonesian military continue to support the anti-independence militias, or will they withdraw from the scene allowing the Australian-led force to get on with its job unhindered?

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