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Sunday, October 17, 1999 Published at 10:05 GMT 11:05 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Malaysia seeks Timor command

Bishop Carlos Belo applauds Interfet commander Maj Gen Peter Cosgrove

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed says his country wants to command a United Nations peacekeeping force in East Timor.

East Timor
"We have done this in Somalia and we think we have enough experience," he told the Reuters news agency.

"We have been very supportive of the UN, and I think we have a legitimate hope that we could be appointed as commander of the UN forces in East Timor."

The UN peacekeepers will take over from the Australian-led International Force for East Timor (Interfet) once the Indonesian parliament ratifies the outcome of East Timor's August 30 vote for independence.

'Not neutral'

Australia has said it wants one of Indonesia's neighbours in the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) to lead the peacekeeping force.

However, Timor independence leader Jose Ramos-Horta said on Friday that Asean countries were not neutral.

He said the East Timorese would not accept an Asean state as leader of the UN transitional administration because they had been "accomplices of Indonesia".

Malaysia has supported Indonesia's accusations that Australian troops in East Timor have been heavy-handed.

Mahathir said Malaysia was worried that what he called Western "interference" in East Timor would serve as a precedent for political pressure on other countries in the region.


On Saturday Australian troops in East Timor shot dead three anti-independence militiamen who were attempting to ambush an observation patrol.

[ image: Worshippers attend mass at the home of Bishop Belo in East Timor]
Worshippers attend mass at the home of Bishop Belo in East Timor
None of the peacekeepers was injured in the clash near Marko, a village about 10 miles from Indonesian-controlled West Timor.

The clash was the fourth such incident in the border region, and was the bloodiest so far. It brings the total of militia fighters killed by Interfet to six.

The Australian-led international force arrived in East Timor on September 20 with a UN mandate to quell militia violence. Pro-Indonesian gunmen had gone on a rampage after East Timor's independence referendum.

Strained relations

The militias are now massed on the West Timor side of the border with East Timor. They have threatened both full-scale and guerrilla attacks on Interfet.

There are still remote areas of the territory where the international force has not yet taken control.

An investigation is under way into an earlier clash between Interfet and pro-Indonesian forces, which took place on the border on October 10.

Jakarta says the incident took place inside West Timor, and that one Indonesian policeman was killed. Interfet says its soldiers came under fire on the East Timorese side of the border.

Relations between Indonesia and Australia have come under strain as a result of the incident.

Indonesia's military chief, General Wiranto, said later that Jakarta would prevent West Timor being used as a base for attacks on East Timor.

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