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Sunday, September 19, 1999 Published at 11:39 GMT 12:39 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Howard addresses Australian nation

John Howard: "This is in our national interest"

Australia's Prime Minister John Howard has addressed the nation as its troops prepare to lead international peacekeepers into East Timor.

He said that the troops would have the nation's total support and the action was part of Australia's great military tradition.

Here is the full transcript of that address.

Good evening.

As I speak to you tonight, 2,000 young Australians are preparing to go to East Timor.

East Timor
This is our nation's largest military involvement for more than 30 years.

The government's decision to commit Australian forces to the multinational peacekeeping operation in East Timor, sponsored by the United Nations, was not taken lightly.

We decided to do it not only because it was right, but also because it was in our national interest to do so.

Continued instability of the kind we have so recently witnessed in a territory so close to Australia could have serious consequences for us in the longer run.

Scenes of destruction

For two weeks now, we have nightly viewed scenes of violence, death and destruction in East Timor.

The total failure of the Indonesian forces to control the violence and put an end to the killings has greatly distressed the Australian people.

We have all sensed that a small, vulnerable community was about to be denied the freedom they have sought for so long and voted so overwhelmingly to achieve.

If there had been an alternative to sending in peacekeeping forces, then we would have followed it.

Many nations, not least Australia, pressed the Indonesian government to restore order but despite assurances this did not happen.

Indonesia is our neighbour

Australia's quarrel is not with the Indonesian people.

Indonesia is our nearest neighbour. We want friendly relations with the people of that country.

We have always tried to help Indonesia with her problems. We gave special aid when the Asian economic collapse hit Indonesia.

It was our preference that Indonesia keep order in East Timor while the transition to independence for the East Timorese people under the supervision of the United Nations took place.

Unfortunately, this did not occur and it became essential that Indonesia be persuaded to accept a peacekeeping force.

Pride in action

Australia actively sought the support of other nations to achieve this, and our efforts were successful.

A few days ago the Security Council of the United Nations, with Indonesia's approval, passed a resolution authorising the establishment of a multinational force.

That force will go into East Timor to restore peace and stability, protect the United Nations mission and facilitate humanitarian aid.

I am proud that Australia was asked to lead the peacekeeping force. Months ago, we made ready an additional brigade of the Australian army in case Australian forces were needed for peacekeeping operations in East Timor.

As a result, we were able to respond immediately to the United Nations request not only to participate but also to lead the multinational force.

Initially, Australia's contribution will be 2,000 personnel, with the capacity to increase to 4,500 if the circumstances require.

They will follow in the footsteps of other Australians - the federal police, military liaison officers, consular officials and United Nations workers, who have done so much in East Timor in past weeks to help its people.

Many other nations from all parts of the world are participating.

The commander of the force will be Major General Peter Cosgrove, one of Australia's most distinguished serving combat soldiers. His deputy will be an officer from the army of Thailand.

Our aim is a situation in East Timor where the United Nations can supervise the peaceful transition to independence of that territory.

After all, 78.5 per cent of the people of East Timor voted for independence only two weeks ago.

Protracted mission

We all hope that this mission can be accomplished smoothly and quickly.

We must, however, prepare for the possibility that it could be long and protracted.

Although the goal of our forces will be the restoration of peace and stability, the conditions they encounter could well be violent and disruptive.

Any operation of this kind is dangerous.

There is a risk of casualties. Our troops, however, are highly trained and totally professional. We should not only feel proud of them, but also have every confidence in their ability to do the job.

The rules under which they will operate will allow them to take all necessary steps not only to protect themselves, but also to achieve the objects of their mission.

I know that the thoughts and prayers of all Australians will be with our troops as they embark for East Timor.

We think also of their families and other loved ones and try to share the anxiety they will feel over the days ahead.

Our soldiers go to East Timor as part of a great Australian military tradition, which has never sought to impose the will of this country on others but only to defend what is right. They go with our good will and total support.

We wish them God speed and a safe return home.

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