|Subject: AGE: Australia troops set to go to Timor
Date: Sun, 01 Aug 1999 11:24:55 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Received from Joyo Indonesian News:
The Age [Australia] Thursday, July 29, 1999
Australia troops set to go to Timor
By PAUL DALEY
DEFENCE CORRESPONDENT CANBERRA
The United Nations is expected to ask Australian troops to form the core of an international military operation for East Timor in the likely event the province votes for independence from Indonesia.
Defence sources told The Age that under strategies discussed by Federal Cabinet's national security sub-committee, Australian and New Zealand troops are expected to form a ``nucleus of expertise'' for any East Timor force at the UN's request.
Under the strategy other Pacific and Asian countries - such as Fiji, Malaysia and possibly Thailand - would be asked to contribute the bulk of the ground troops for the force, which would be referred to as an ``international monitoring group'' or a ``transition assistance force''.
In related developments:
* The UN Secretary-General, Mr Kofi Annan, has delayed by a week, to 30August, the referendum on East Timor's independence, the second time that the United Nations has delayed the vote amid concerns that the security situation in East Timor is not conducive to a free and fair ballot. Originally, the plebiscite was scheduled for 8August, and was later delayed to 21 or 22August.
* Australia is to press Mrs Megawati Sukarnoputri, the woman most likely to emerge as Indonesia's next president, to give clear commitment that East Timor will be given independence if a majority votes for it. And the Foreign Minister, Mr Alexander Downer, said in Singapore that Australia would consider sending more police to East Timor to deal with any increase in violence after the self-determination ballot.
As the East Timor vote nears, Australia has stepped up its military contingency planning in line with intelligence assessments that the result of the vote is likely to be independence.
According to these assessments, there is a strong likelihood that a sharp increase in violence - inspired by some pro-integrationist militias and elements of the Indonesian military - will accompany a result favoring independence.
The Australian Army's First Brigade - a 2800-strong, readily deployable unit based in Darwin - would contribute heavily to such a deployment.
Defence sources said the whole brigade - including all its helicopters and its light and heavy armored vehicles - may not be deployed under such a contingency.
They said it was most likely that First Brigade would contribute at least 1500 personnel, including engineers, communications experts, intelligence operatives, reconnaissance staff and some medical experts.
While New Zealand would not be able to send similar numbers, Australian strategists believe New Zealand could contribute a battalion-sized group of up to 500 specialised soldiers.
Sources said that while the United States, Britain, Portugal and other European Union countries may have logistic input into any UN military operation, it has been made clear to Australia that these countries would be unable - or unwilling - to contribute troops. ``The US and Britain see this as Australia's responsibility. We expect them to dig deep into their pockets, but they will not be contributing men,'' a defence source said.
Japan was also expected to make a financial contribution.
``Some of the (public) assessments (about East Timor) have been optimistic. But it is fair to say defence is being more realistic,'' a defence source said.
``A realistic assessment is that, given the likely result of the vote, there would now have to be a 75 per cent likelihood that the UN will ask Australia to contribute heavily to a multinational force a short time later, in the event of violence.''
Defence strategists are also completing the rules of engagement acceptable to Australia under several scenarios, including if a UN force is required to oversee a peace agreement or if it was required to act as a peacemaker.
Despite Indonesia's consistent refusal to publicly contemplate foreign troops in East Timor, some Australian defence strategists are expressing new optimism that Indonesia may be willing to accept outside military assistance in the event that the vote supports independence.
Mr Downer will visit the East Timorese capital of Dili on Friday to meet UN staff and Australian consular officials.
Mr Downer has said that, if asked by the UN, Australia would consider contributing troops to a UN military force for East Timor.