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Monday, September 20, 1999 Published at 07:43 GMT 08:43 UK


World: Asia-Pacific

Analysis: The task ahead

Australian soldiers prepare to sail to East Timor

By Diplomatic Correspondent Brian Hanrahan

The peacekeeping force in East Timor faces a number of dangers.

East Timor
It relies on infantry rather than armour, and its real shield is the involvement of so many nations.

It would be politically disastrous for Indonesia to oppose it, but nor could the force operate without Indonesian consent.

Its base in Darwin is 500 miles from its bridgehead in Dili. Advance parties are initially securing the airports in the East Timorese capital.


Watch Brian Hanrahan's report
Troops will have to establish control over Dili and its port and then spread out across the rest of the territory.

The militias are reported to be leaving the capital, but they still have other strongholds from which they will need to be dislodged.

Questionmark over army

What will happen to the Indonesian army is not clear.

Despite their terrible record, Indonesia says its troops will co-operate, but human rights groups believe that the UN will be making a mistake if it lets them stay.

Carmel Budiardjo, Director of Tapol, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign, said: "The Indonesian Army is the main stay of the militias.

"As long as the Indonesian Army remains in East Timor, the problem of the militias will still exist and that will create problems for the multinational force ... because the militias and the army are so closely interwoven."

This operation will be nothing like as clear-cut as Kosovo, which was also an attempt to stop what the world regarded as unacceptable violence.

Then, Nato was backed by massive firepower, and swept its opponents completely out of the territory.

But one lesson from past operations has been learned - Australia has been given a mandate to use all the force it considers necessary.

Colonel Bob Stewart, Commander of UN forces in Bosnia, said: "Look at the mandate that has been given to the force: 'All necessary means.' We didn't give that to me when I went into Bosnia, it was much weaker. This is an enforcement action."

Now it is Australia's turn to become international standard-bearer.



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