The 8,000 soldiers, mostly Australian, but with New Zealanders and Gurkhas, will enter a territory considerably larger and more hostile than Kosovo. But they could face fierce resistance in the jungles and mountains, where Indonesia has failed to defeat guerrillas in 20 years of warfare.
Under a British-sponsored resolution, the mandate for a peace-keeping force was being negotiated last night at the UN Security Council in New York. That force would be authorised under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which means the soldiers could use "all necessary means" to enforce peace, in- cluding use of all firearms. The ill-fated Unprofor mission was sent to secure peace in Bosnia in 1994 with very limited attack and defence capabilities.
Several imponderables await the mission. The militia may not attempt to defend a territory it has already laid waste and they may flee across the border to sanctuary in West Timor. If they do make a stand, they may be re-armed and supplied by the Indonesian Army, the TNI.
Yesterday, Indonesian officials in Jakarta denied the TNI, accused of abetting the militia rampage, will represent a threat to the peace- keepers. The TNI is meant to remain behind to assist the multi-national force. "I can guarantee that no TNI personnel will make any conflict with the peace-keepers," a military spokesman said. How far the TNI can be trusted is open to question.
Bob Lowry, lecturer at the Australian Defence Studies Centre in Canberra, sees limited problems for the force. He said: "The most dangerous time is going to be getting out in the townships and villages and establishing initial control, basically the first week."
If there is no evidence of mines being laid or booby traps, "all you're really looking at is people with small arms and thugs running around with machetes and so on, and our troops will be more than able to cope with that".
Warnings were sounded in Jakarta. "If the UN sends the troops from Australia the emotions of people will rise and the conflict will start again," said Aisyah Amini, a leading figure in the ruling Golkah party. "It will be a conflict between the pro-integration people and the troops from Australia."
On Monday, a parliamentary commission on defence, which Mrs Amini chairs, urged the UN to exclude Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada and Portugal from the UN force in the former Portuguese colony.
Britain, Canada, France, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Portugal, Singapore and the United States have pledged support at various levels.
Danger lurks along the 100-kilometre winding mountain border that separates East and West Timor. That could provide the militia with a near-impervious curtain, and hidden military staging areas in Indonesia from which they could launch offensive operations at will.Reuse content