13 September 1999: Habibie bows to pressure for peace force: Indonesian president accepts need for UN mission to halt East Timor violence (front page, first section)

Indonesia's president yesterday invited United Nations peacekeeping troops to enter East Timor in a dramatic reversal of policy. But he failed to indicate whether they could enter in time to stop further slaughter. "I have made the decision to give our approval to a peace-keeping force together with the Indonesian military to maintain the security of East Timor," B.J. Habibie said in a televised speech, yielding to international pressure and threats of sanctions.

"Too many people have lost their lives. We cannot wait any longer," he said. Indonesia's powerful military, which is seen as having tolerated or orchestrated the violence, said it supported the move.

The US offered a cautious welcome to Mr Habibie's statement, which came after repeated rejections of offers to send in UN peacekeepers. But Sandy Berger, President Bill Clinton's national security adviser, said: "I think that one cannot be sanguine about the situation until we actually have a peacekeeping force that is deployed in East Timor."

He said US military and other sanctions imposed in recent days on Indonesia would be reviewed as time passed, "if this unfolds as we hope it does". John Howard, the Australian prime minister, called Mr Habibie's decision a "tremendous step forward" and reiterated Australia's commitment to leading the UN-mandated force. Australian defence planners would be sent immediately to New York to co-ordinate with the UN, he said.

Britain said 250 of its Gurkha troops would be among the first UN troops to arrive.

Mr Habibie said he had informed Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, of his decision minutes earlier and would send foreign minister Ali Alatas to the Security Council in New York at once to discuss terms.

He gave no hint about the likely arrival date of such troops, however, nor the form of co-operation with the Indonesian army. The military has openly supported the pro-Indonesian militia in their attacks, which began after East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence last month. "It depends on the UN secretary-general," said Dewi Fortuna Anwar, an adviser to Mr Habibie, on the timing of deployment. "If he says now, it's now."

A military spokesman indicated earlier, however, that foreign troops would not arrive before Indonesia's highest legislative body, the People's Consultative Assembly, endorsed last month's referendum that showed 78.5 per cent of the East Timorese in favour of independence.

This would make yesterday's gesture an empty one, as UN troops had always been expected to take over from the Indonesian military after that vote. Mr Habibie said the peacekeepers should be drawn from "friendly" countries, raising the possibility of protracted negotiations.

"What kind of peacekeeping force will it be?" asked an Asian diplomat. "Indonesia could set countless conditions. It seems that Australia is not welcome in such a force." Date of troops' arrival, Page 8 Military manoeuvres, Page 27 Lex, Page 28

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