East Timor in turmoil: UN must now decide if a force should be sent

THE UNITED Nations Security Council in New York was last night considering its next step in the bid to restore calm to the province of East Timor, which exploded into violence just six days after it voted overwhelmingly to break away from Indonesia.

"We will tell the Indonesians that it's time to get serious," one senior official said in New York last night. "It's time to get real. They have the capacity to provide security in the province and it's time now that they demonstrate their intention to live up to that responsibility".

Speaking before the announcement that the UN seciruty Council will send a mission to Jakarta and Dili, the Nobel peace prize-winning campaigner Jose Ramos-Horta, said: "We need action by the Security Council. The people of East Timor must be protected by a neutral armed force in the territory."

The continuing fighting, which has flared around the UN compound in the capital Dili, has put pressure on the council to act. The process of secession was initiated with an agreement struck between Indonesia and the former colonial power in Timor, Portugal, under UN auspices in May. The UN knows that its prestige is on the line as violence now threatens to kill that process.

Last night's session, called by the Dutch government, which holds the council presidency, brought ambassadors scurrying back to New York mid- way through the three-day Labour Day break in the United States. Hours earlier, diplomats were predicting that there would no council meeting for some days.

It is unlikely that the UN could dispatch a peace-keeping force to East Timor quickly, as a number of governments are now demanding, including Portugal. Australia and New Zealand have suggested deploying an ad hoc force that would have the UN's blessing but would not be a UN force as such. But even that arrangement seems impossible without the blessing of the Indonesian government. Two Islamic members of the Security Council would not approve any measure seen to go against Indonesian wishes.

"I don't see any green light coming from the Indonesian government," a senior UN official said. "So I don't see any decisions here any time soon."

John Howard, the Australian Prime Minister, said he had been told by the Indonesian President, B J Habibie, that Jakarta would not condone a formal peace-keeping force until its parliament had formally approved East Timor's independence - probably not before October. In that case, the thousands of Australian troops now stationed at Darwin would intervene only to evacuate Australian nationals.

Early today Mr Howard condemned Indonesia's failure to stem the violence: "Indonesia is not fulfilling its obligations to maintain law and order. There can be no excuse for the Indonesian army turning a blind eye to what is occurring," he said.

But there been no hint of action from the US, for all its military muscle in East Asia. Thus even an ad hoc "coalition of the willing", led by Australia, the US and New Zealand, ready to send troops to East Timor looks a non- starter. As Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary put it yesterday, "nobody is going to fight their way in".

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