THE FIRST air-drops of food and blankets over East Timor, where thousands are without shelter, will begin today or tomorrow. Meanwhile, negotiations in New York for the landing of an international peace-keeping force led by Australia appeared to be gaining momentum.
The United Nations Security Council yesterday edged closer to the final adoption of a resolution laying down the mandate for the multi-national force. Barring delaying tactics by Indonesia, which continued to voice doubts about the heavy Australian element in the force, the first troops could be landing in 72 hours. Yesterday also saw the evacuation by an Australian air bridge to Darwin of a thousand refugees who have spent the last 10 days huddled inside the UN compound in Dili in fear of their lives. Within hours of it being closed, the compound was looted by local militia gangs.
The air-drops will be carried out by Australian Air Force C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft, John Howard, the Australian Prime Minister, indicated. The missions could not start yesterday because of fears that the planes would be shot at and the food grabbed by militias.
In Jakarta, elements of the Habibie government were still voicing opposition to the likely leadership of the multinational force by Australia. "I think we prefer to see Asian faces in such peace-keeping troops," said Dewi Fortuna Anwar, foreign policy adviser to President Habibie.
But Hannu Himanen, Finland's ambassador to Jakarta, said President Habibie reiterated to ambassadors of the European Union yesterday that no conditions would be set on the force's composition.
Timor crisis, page 11
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