Britain pledges troops for Timor peace-keeping force

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN HAS offered to send troops and money to East Timor for a United Nations-sponsored peace-keeping force. The troops would be deployed in the event of an Indonesian withdrawal, which might take place by the end of this year.

News of the offer was given by Jose Ramos-Horta, overseas spokesman for the Timorese resistance, in an interview with The Independent yesterday in Hong Kong. He said Derek Fatchett, the Foreign Office minister responsible for Asia, had written to Xanana Gusmao, leader of the Timorese resistance, two days ago.

According to Mr Ramos-Horta, Britain is one of the first powers to pledge support for a force which would help the former Portuguese colony prepare for independence. The letter was delivered by Britain's ambassador in Jakarta to the house where Mr Gusmao is being held after his release from prison a week ago.

"I'm very confident that the United Kingdom would be a major contributor to Timor," said Mr Ramos-Horta. He had special praise for the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, and the Secretary of State for International Development, Clare Short, who, he said, were "very sensitive towards East Timor and very aware that they have to make up for Britain's arms sales to Indonesia".

Mr Ramos-Horta also noted Mr Fatchett's close involvement in the Timor issue, saying he had visited Mr Gusmao three times in the past year.

Next week talks are due between the foreign ministers of Portugal and Indonesia and Jamsheed Marker, the UN Secretary-General's special representative. They are trying to reach agreement on how the Timorese people will be consulted on plans for autonomy.

"We remain poles apart on this crucial issue," Mr Ramos-Horta said. "Jakarta refuses to have a referendum on self-determination." This is supported by the Portuguese and most UN members.

Indonesia is saying that if the Timorese reject its proposals for a degree of autonomy within the Indonesian state, they will pack up and leave by the end of the year.

Jakarta has been supporting paramilitary gangs which have started raising the temperature in Timor. It is for this reason that a UN-sponsored peace- keeping force is being considered.

Besides Britain, there have been pledges of support from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the Nordic countries. Portugal has even promised to underwrite the entire operation if necessary.

The United States has yet to commit itself, although Stanley Roth, Assistant Secretary of State responsible for East Asia, is in close touch with Mr Ramos-Horta and Mr Gusmao.

There are fears that a rapid end to the 23-year Indonesian occupation of East Timor would give way to chaos.

Mr Ramos-Horta says he is working to shore up international support for a new independent state and to enlist a high-powered team of international economic advisers. The team will be chaired by Eric Hotung, a Hong Kong tycoon, and will include the financier George Soros.

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