Australia told: `It could be a long, hard haul'

AUSTRALIA WILL witness an event today that has not been seen for a generation: the departure of 2,000 men and women on a hazardous military operation from which some may not return.

With the nation braced for possible casualties, from what is Australia's biggest military deployment since the Vietnam War, the Prime Minister, John Howard, warned that the Australian-led peace-keeping force in East Timor could face a long and dangerous haul.

"We all hope that this mission can be completed smoothly and quickly, but we must, however, prepare for the possibility that it could be long and protracted," he said in a pre-recorded address to the nation broadcast on televison last night. "Although the goal of the force is the restoration of peace and stability, the conditions that they encounter could be violent. Any operation of this kind is dangerous. There is the risk of casualties."

Mr Howard, often criticised for his wooden delivery and failure to show emotion, appeared close to tears as he said that all Australians sought to share the anxieties felt by the families of the troops. "They go with our goodwill and total support," he said. "We wish them godspeed."

With Australia's initial troop commitment likely to rise to 4,500 in the coming weeks, opinion polls and radio phone-ins suggest that nearly all Australians support the country's leading role in the International Force for East Timor (Interfet). However, that consensus could start to crumble if troops are killed. Only one Australian soldier has died in active service since the Vietnam War, so the impact of casualties would be deeply felt.

Australian newspapers expressed their support for Australia's involvement in East Timor yesterday, but said the country would have to bear most of the expense for the province's long-term security and rehabilitation.

The Prime Minister flew to Townsville in northern Queensland last night, where some of the troops who will form the Australian contingent of the multinational peace-keeping force are stationed.

Mr Howard, who was flying on to the northern city of Darwin to speak to troops, said in his televised address that the government's decision to commit Australian forces to the peace-keeping team had not been taken lightly.

Interfet would work under robust rules of engagement, he said. "The rules under which they will operate will allow them to take all necessary steps not only to protect themselves but also to achieve the objectives of their mission."

Mr Howard also referred to the increasingly angry anti-Australia demonstrations that have taken place in Indonesia in recent days, saying: "Australia's quarrel is not with the Indonesian people. Indonesia is our nearest neighbour. We want friendly relations with the people of that country."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Sport
football
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power