11 September 1999: UN chief says Jakarta must accept foreign peacekeepers

(with Agencies, Michael Littlejohns, Gwen Robinson)

Auckland, UN

Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general, yesterday called on Indonesia to accept immediately foreign peacekeepers to restore order on the island.

Mr Annan said he had asked Australia to lead the establishment of a multinational force that the Philippines, Malaysia and New Zealand were all willing to join. But a necessary element was an Indonesian acquiescence, without with the Security Council could not give its blessing.

Alexander Downer, Australian foreign minister, suggested yesterday that it was no longer a case of "if" but "when" foreign troops should go into East Timor. Speaking in Auckland at the gathering of Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation countries, Mr Downer said it was possible Jakarta would permit a UN-backed peacekeeping force to enter East Timor before the Indonesian parliament convened - possibly next month - to ratify the territory's independence vote.

He claimed there could be "no argument" that peacekeepers could enter after ratification of the independence vote, but there was now an "overwhelming view" that it might happen earlier.

Mr Downer said the coalition of countries willing to commit troops had broadened significantly in the past week to include a number of Asian countries as well as the US, Canada, Australia, the UK and New Zealand. The involvement of Asian countries, which normally stay clear of one another's internal affairs, would be unprecedented.

Mr Annan warned that those responsible for the massacres, including the Indonesian army, could face international charges of crimes against humanity.

Bill Clinton, US president, due to arrive in Auckland late yesterday, angrily condemned the violence, saying it was "simply unacceptable". He also accused the Indonesian army of aiding and abetting the militias. "The Indonesian government and military must reverse this course, do everything possible to stop the violence and allow an international force to make possible the restoration of security," Mr Clinton said.

On Thursday the US suspended military relations with Indonesia and threatened to suspend economic assistance as well if the country continued to resist East Timor's desire for independence. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have frozen all assistance, adding to the pressure on the country to sort out the situation.

Alia Alatas, Indonesia's foreign minister, said yesterday: "Indonesia regrets the (US) decision to review its economic assistance. .. Economic and financial aid has broad implications for Indonesia."

Mark Baird, the World Bank's country director in Indonesia, warned that an aid cut-off would not improve the situation in East Timor. Instead, it would damage the broader economy and hit poor people throughout the archipelago.

However, Mr Downer warned that regardless of specific aid programmes, Indonesia's economy would "suffer grievously" if it did not restore peace in East Timor, or allow UN peacekeepers in. UN leaves only symbolic presence The United Nations evacuated most of its remaining staff from East Timor yesterday, leaving a small group in symbolic protection of up to 700 refugees against militia and Indonesian soldiers lurking outside, writes SANDER THOENES.

General Wiranto, Indonesia's military commander, yesterday suggested UN peacekeeping troops could be allowed in early, before their scheduled arrival in November, but not until his troops had restored order. "We do not reject the UN peacekeeping forces, but it is not really the appropriate time for them to come in, because a number of native East Timorese people have had such an emotional reaction against the Unamet (the UN mission there)," he said.

More than 20,000 Indonesian troops and police have done little to restore order and imposition of martial law earlier this week has had only a limited effect in the Timorese capital Dili. Shooting continued in the city yesterday although there were few people left.

The Financial Times

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