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Monday, September 13, 1999 Published at 09:07 GMT 10:07 UK

UK Politics

Gurkhas wait for Timor orders

Gurkhas were the first British troops to go into Kosovo

British troops are likely to be among the first to join a United Nations peacekeeping force in East Timor.

East Timor
UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook announced that about 250 Gurkhas could be the first British troops into the territory.

The announcement follows the decision by Indonesia's President BJ Habibie to allow UN troops into East Timor.

But the decision to include British troops in a peacekeeping force has been criticised by the shadow foreign secretary John Maples, who described the decision as a "token contribution".

'Worst of both worlds'

Mr Maples said: "I think this is a token contribution and in a sense it gives us the worst of both worlds.

Shadow Foreign Secretary, John Maples: "This is a token contribution"
"We become heavily committed in the success of the operation without sufficient resources or means.

"I would prefer to see no British participation in the force. I think we should give all the technical, intelligence, communications support that we possibly can to the peace keeping force that goes in."

Mr Maples said he believed British troops were already involved in too many operations, such as in Northern Ireland and Kosovo.

East Timor has disintegrated into chaos since a referendum on its future, which resulted in an overwhelming vote in favour of independence from Jakarta.

Pro-independence militias, backed by sections of the military, have ransacked their way across the territory since the result was announced.

Mr Maples said: "The most important thing is to get a peacekeeping force in there with the right terms of engagement and the right equipment to restore order to East Timor and stop the killings and bring the militia under control."

The BBC's David Shukman reports: "Austrailia will take the lead"
He said he was very happy to see Australia leading the peacekeeping force.

Mr Maples said: "I think these operations should primarily be conducted by countries in the region.

"It shouldn't always fall to Britain, France and America to take the lead in these things, I'm delighted that that's happening.

"But I do think there are some very crucial questions outstanding which are the size, the composition, the equipment it takes with it, and what its terms of reference are."

Planning for peace

[ image: Robin Cook:
Robin Cook: "Peacekeepers must be deployed as soon as possible"
The foreign secretary has also said a British ship could be sent to Dili, the East Timorese capital, to evacuate refugees from the besieged UN compound.

Work on the plans for the peacekeeping force will start immediately in New York, where the UN has its headquarters.

Speaking at the weekend, Mr Cook said: "Last Thursday I said that the international community would not allow East Timor's cry for freedom to be drowned in blood.

"I hope we now have the opportunity to keep that promise to stop the bloodshed in East Timor and to start East Timor on the road to freedom."

Mr Cook said it was also vital to get humanitarian aid to the many thousands of refugees and to start rebuilding East Timor to give the people there a "fresh start as a free country".

He added: "Britain played its part in the pressure on Indonesia to get this commitment.

"Britain is now ready to play its part in the contribution towards the UN peacekeeping force."

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