East Timor Crisis: Deployment - UN now tries to assemble a peace force

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The Independent Online
THE WORLD has got what it wanted out of Indonesia, or at least it thinks it has. The demands on it to accept the deployment of a peace- keeping force to East Timor have been heard and accepted. But now, a new and equally urgent chapter in this tragedy begins.

The focus will be on Kofi Annan, the secretary general of the United Nations. It is his job to work the telephones with national leaders - Tony Blair included - to persuade them to move on from expostulations of disgust to delivering personnel and equipment to the putative peace- keeping force.

Historically, this is a difficult transition to achieve. The UN has bitter experience of countries balking when asked to put money where their mouths have been. And even if the political will exists to contribute to a peace- keeping force, the details of assembling it and deploying it will be ferocious.

This is work that will begin in earnest at UN headquarters this morning. Participating in some of it will be Ali Alatas, the Foreign Minister of Indonesia, who was dispatched by President B J Habibie to New York last night. The Security Council must also pass a resolution laying out the force's mandate.

In theory, an all-Australian force could enter East Timor today. That, for now, is not at all what is envisaged. Indonesia has not agreed to an Australian invasion. The force will be a multinational one, almost certainly dominated by troops from Indonesia's Asian neighbours, like Malaysia and Japan. The United States may provide a few hundred soldiers, while Britain, already stretched in the Balkans, is unlikely to supply more than logistical support.

Even under the best of scenarios - where countries agree quickly to contribute to the force and the Indonesian army in the meantime prevents any further eruption of violence in East Timor - assembling and deploying the force is likely to take three weeks, a senior UN official suggested last night. More probably, it will take considerably longer, perhaps a month or six weeks.

A question that officials will be negotiating from today with Mr Alitas will be what happens next to the Indonesian forces who are now in East Timor implementing, or trying to implement, martial law. A timetable needs to be established for the phased winding down of those troops as the peace- keeping force begins to deploy.

Some of this was discussed in very rudimentary terms by the five-member Security Council mission with President Habibie and his chief commander of the army, General Wiranto, in Jakarta last night. Expelling all of the Indonesian soldiers to make way for the UN deployment is not likely to happen. The UN appears ready to accept that some Indonesian soldiers remain to work with the incoming force.

The reason for that is partly political - excluding the national army would deepen the humiliation of Jakarta. However, the UN appears anxious also that Indonesia should not escape all of the responsibility for making the peace-keeping mission work. If Indonesian troops remain, however, it is likely that they would be used only in those parts of the province that have been removed from the worst of the mayhem.

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