14 September 1999: Indonesia rejects Australian troops

(with Stephen Fidler, Gwen Robinson)

Jakarta, Auckland

Indonesia's military and parliament yesterday rejected Australia as a member of a future peacekeeping force in East Timor, putting Jakarta back on a collision course with the United Nations and international donors.

"The armed forces reject Australia as part of any peacekeeping troops," said Brig Gen Sudrajat, the Indonesian military spokesman.

He said Indonesia "wants the majority of the force to come from Asean" - the Association of South East Asian Nations.

Parliament leaders objected not only to Australia but also to troops from the US, New Zealand and Portugal, countries they deemed too biased in favour of pro-independence groups in East Timor.

The US, Britain and Australia, as well as the UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, rejected Indonesia's right to influence the composition of the force. Mr Annan insisted it was for the UN and the security council to decide.

President Bill Clinton stressed that the Indonesian military had no say in the composition of the peacekeeping force, "otherwise it will raise all kinds of questions about whether there will be integrity in the force and it will also delay the implementation", he said.

John Howard, Australia's prime minister, said Canberra had been asked by the secretary general to lead the force.

"He asked me a week ago and we said yes. That is appropriate, entirely appropriate and it is also the view of the president of the United States." When President B.J. Habibie made an apparent about-turn last Sunday and dropped objections to an early arrival of foreign troops in East Timor, he had appeared to be buckling under threats of international sanctions.

However, only Australia has troops ready to move. By objecting to Australian troops, Indonesia's powerful military seemed intent on buying time for their soldiers in East Timor, warding off sanctions until they finish a scorched earth policy that has left hundreds, possibly thousands, dead.

"If Indonesia is serious about a United Nations peacekeeping force and (one) that can get there quickly, then Australia has to play a leading role," said Robin Cook, The UK foreign secretary, adding that peacekeepers should be ready to start work in about a week.

There has been an upsurge of Indonesian protest demonstrations against Australia, which diplomats presume have been at least partially organised by the military.

Yesterday a crowd ransacked an Australian representative office in Surabaya, Indonesia's second city.

Mr Habibie's agreement to let in peacekeepers pushed talk of sanctions off the agenda at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) summit in New Zealand but Sandy Berger, the US national security adviser, said no aid should be forthcoming until peacekeepers set foot in East Timor.

James Wolfensohn, World Bank president, yesterday said the Bank and the International Monetary Fund would hold up any disbursements until Indonesia cleared up a corruption scandal over government funds paid out to Bank Bali, a private bank.

EU foreign ministers also agreed yesterday to impose a four-month embargo on arms sales to Indonesia.

Standard and Poor's yesterday placed Indonesia's sovereign and senior unsecured foreign currency credit ratings on Credit Watch with negative implications, citing concerns about aid and debt relief.

The Financial Times

Page 4

London Edition 1

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