15 September 1999: Accord near on E Timor force

(with Michael Littlejohns)

New York, Jakarta

Agreement appeared immin-ent last night on a United Nations-backed multiracial force for East Timor which could be deployed by the weekend. Closed-door consultations were continuing in the UN Security Council on a British-sponsored resolution which would mandate "all necessary measures" to restore law and order in the Indonesian territory.

"Good progress has been made in the past few hours," said John Howard, prime minister of Australia, which has offered to lead the force.

It was possible a resolution would be adopted without the backing of China because of a proposal to invoke Chapter VII of the UN charter. In the past China has hesitated to include "Chapter VII language", which confers broad enforcement authority for peacekeepers.

UN members appeared confident that Australia would supply the largest contingent, of about 4,500 troops, despite Indonesian reservations about Australian participation.

Alexander Downer, Australian foreign minister, said at the UN that while Australian troops would be in the vanguard of a force they would prefer to be accompanied in East Timor by other Asian troops. Mr Downer said that Ali Alatas, Indonesian foreign minister, in conversations with him had not objected to Australian leadership of the force but Mr Downer said he recognised Indonesian "sensitivities".

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.

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. The UN yesterday closed its mission in East Timor and evacuated all but a dozen staff.

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 an assault before UN troops could arrive. Cash to buy Hawks, Page 9

The Financial Times

Page 4

London Edition 3

Copyright (C) Financial Times Ltd, 1982-1997