Indonesia willing to participate in UN force in Afghanistan

War on terrorism: World reaction
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The Independent Online

The world's most populous Muslim nation, Indonesia, is prepared to take part in peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan if the United Nations asks, government and military officials said on Wednesday.

"As long as the force is under a UN umbrella, Indonesia would respond very positively," said Wahid Supriyadi, a foreign ministry spokesman.

With the fall of Kabul, demands have grown for the world body to oversee a political settlement to the long­running civil war in Afghanistan. A multinational peacekeeping force drawn mainly from moderate Muslim nations is being planned.

A draft Security Council resolution circulated by Britain "encourages member states to support efforts to ensure the safety and security of areas of Afghanistan no longer under Taliban control."

Likely participants in a combined peacekeeping force include Turkey, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Jordan, US officials said on Tuesday. All are predominantly Muslim nations in order to avoid the appearance that Afghanistan is being occupied by Western powers.

Supriyadi said that he could not outline Indonesia's possible role, since the Security Council has still not approved the force.

If Jakarta contributes units to the UN force, it would represent an ironic twist in its relationship with the world body. The last major deployment of peacekeepers was in East Timor in 1999, when the they oversaw the withdrawal of Indonesian forces after their bloody, 24­year occupation of the region.

At the time, a shooting war between the two sides was narrowly averted, but a number of people were killed in armed skirmishes between the Australian­led peacekeepers and pro­Indonesian militia gangs.

Air Vice Marshall Graito Usodo confirmed on Wednesday that Indonesia's armed forces were ready to deploy troops as part of a UN mission.

"If formally requested, our task will be to prepare the force," said the military spokesman. "It depends on the decision taken by the government."

The Indonesian army has a reputation for poor discipline and human rights abuses. During the 32­year regime of former dictator Suharto, it was used primarily as a force for internal repression.

Indonesia contributed forces to several past UN missions, including Sinai and the Congo in the 1960s. Thousands of troops were used sent to Cambodia in the early 1980s, where they were accused of selling UN vehicles and equipment to Khmer Rouge rebels.

Participation in peacekeeping might also benefit the political and diplomatic fortunes of President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

She publicly opposed U.S. bombing against the Taliban after Islamic hard–liners criticized her initial support of Washington's war on terrorism. Sending troops to Afghanistan as part of a Muslim–dominated force is likely to please both the Muslims and the Bush administration.

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