15 September 1999: UN shuts East Timor mission

The United Nations yesterday closed its mission in East Timor and evacuated all but a dozen staff, fearing attack ahead of the controversial arrival of international peacekeeping troops.

The 110 staff and 1,300 East Timorese refugees who had remained in the UN compound after two earlier evacuations left Dili, the capital, in the early morning and flew to Darwin, Australia. Staff had feared that pro-Indonesian militia, who had taken potshots at the compound for days, would launch a genuine assault before UN troops could arrive.

John Moore, Australian defence minister, said Australia could lead troops into East Timor by Saturday. US and European officials said an airdrop of aid supplies to more than 200,000 refugees in the territory could be made even earlier to prevent famine.

After doubts about the composition of the international force were raised in Jakarta on Monday, President B.J. Habibie said yesterday Indonesia had put no conditions on the establishment of the force being negotiated at the UN headquarters in New York. However, his ministers and aides urged the UN to take seriously their concern that Australian troops would be too controversial.

"We don't set any conditions," Brig Gen Sudrajat, military spokesman, told the FT. He denied he had rejected Australian troops on live television the day before. "The (military) will not interfere in UN peacekeeping operations policy."

Indonesian troops could be put under UN command or even withdraw early, before the scheduled secession of East Timor in December, the spokesman said. However, the military were "reluctant" to work with Australian troops because of "emotional sentiment" among soldiers and people in East Timor. Diplomats suspect the military of launching an anti-Australian campaign to delay arrival of foreign troops, as only Australia has troops available at short notice.

Umar Juoro, an adviser to Mr Habibie, insisted: "We are not buying time. It is much better if Australia is not involved. Australia has been very rude, they called us bandits. Australia does not distinguish Indonesia from the Indonesian military. We are not part of them."

Expatriate business executives in Jakarta were concerned about a possible backlash against foreigners in Indonesia, particularly if UN peacekeepers clashed with Indonesian troops.

The Financial Times

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