September 1999: UN forces assemble for East Timor
United Nations-mandated security force for East Timor took
shape in Darwin yesterday, but conflicting signals from Indonesian
military chiefs about their own position sowed confusion over
the timing of its deployment. An initial force, led by Australian
and British contingents, would most likely enter East Timor
tomorrow to secure facilities and prepare for the arrival
of the larger security force, Australian officials said.
Indonesia's military commander in East Timor, Maj Gen Kiki
Syahnakri, last night contradicted a statement by the military
command in Jakarta that Maj Gen Peter Cosgrove, the Australian
commander of the International Force for East Timor (Interfet),
would arrive today in East Timor to discuss the planned deployment
Syahnakri said Gen Cosgrove would not be coming today, and
might not even arrive by tomorrow.
uncertainty raised further questions in Darwin about commitments
by Indonesian military commanders to co-operate with the peacekeepers.
But defence planners said Jakarta's role yesterday in allowing
the international force to complete the first air drops of
relief supplies to refugees in East Timor was a promising
Wiranto, Indonesian military commander, said his troops would
transfer responsibility for security in East Timor to the
multinational force upon arrival. Some troops have been withdrawn
and there had been reports of pro-Indonesian militia leaving
for West Timor as well. But they were reported by afternoon
to be back on the streets of Dili, armed with automatic weapons.
remained high between Indonesia and Australia, as John Howard,
Australian prime minister, warned of "strong retaliation"
against any attacks by Indonesian troops on the Australian-led
yesterday closed its consulate in West Timor and two government
offices in other parts of the country, and Australian business
representatives began withdrawing after attacks, protests
and threats against Australian interests in Indonesia.
a reference to the limited US involvement in the peacekeeping,
Mr Howard said if attacks on peacekeepers took place, "then
that, in turn would provoke a much stronger level of intervention
and retaliation, including, I believe, stronger involvement
by countries that are now giving important support but not
massive support." Washington has committed just 200 support
troops to the UN-mandated force. "It's difficult, it's dangerous.
. . I don't disguise the possibility that there could be casualties,"
Mr Howard said.
was also some internal confusion over Malaysia's announcement
it would share deputy command of the Interfet operation with
Thailand. The announcement followed Malaysia's reversal of
a decision to withdraw from the advance security force and
take part only in the full Interfet operation.
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