9 warships, troops on way to E. Timor

EAST TIMOR braces itself for the arrival of an 8,000-strong United Nations (UN) multinational force this week, as its Australian commander prepared to meet an edgy Indonesian armed forces (TNI) today about taking control of the territory.

As hundreds of militiamen, Indonesian policemen and soldiers were heading in convoys away from the capital of Dili, nine warships were on international waters, moving to take up positions off East Timor in a matter of days.

The Adelaide, a guided-missile frigate, led the first group with three other Australian naval vessels accompanying it. The second, comprising three Australian landing craft and a New Zealand frigate, was spearheaded by the British destroyer HMS Glasgow.

At the UN force staging area in Darwin, more military troops from Thailand, the Philippines and New Zealand began streaming in yesterday.

UN commanders also received a major boost with the arrival of more military hardware and equipment, including Land Rovers and a British Hercules aircraft carrying logistics equipment.

The East Timor commander Major-General Kiki Syahnakri said yesterday that foreign troops would be delayed from stepping into the troubled territory “until there is a clear chain of command” between the TNI and the peacekeepers. “Right now, no one knows their roles and responsibilities,” he said.

“The transfer of mandate to restore peace and order in East Timor from TNI to the multinational force remains hanging in the balance.”

However, he said the advance 13-member UN team led by Australian Major-General Peter Cosgrove would be allowed into Dili at 1 pm (5 GMT) today and stay for three hours to discuss “procedures for rules of engagement”.

Despite repeated charges that the TNI did not want to give up a territory it invaded in 1975, its chief, General Wiranto, gave repeated assurances that the military would pull out in stages after the multinational force arrived.

Initially, about 8,000 soldiers would be withdrawn and security in the area would be left to 6,000 marines and airforce personnel until the peacekeepers arrived.

Yesterday, scores of vehicles carrying the pro-Jakarta militiamen and at least 28 trucks packed with members of the elite Brimob police force were seen heading towards the border area with Indonesia’s West Timor.

Observers said that the military-backed militiamen might wage an extended “cat-and-mouse campaign” from this border or fight a guerilla warfare from the jungles.

TNI spokesman Sudradjat, however, dismissed suggestions that the TNI would attack peacekeepers, describing as a “form of provocation” recent statements from Australian Prime Minister John Howard that if there were attacks, the UN force would retaliate swiftly.

If anything, analysts said that such an action would mark an upsurge in nationalist sentiments against Australia, the US and other countries taking part in the military operation.

Already, the remark has riled more than 100,000 Indonesian Muslims in East Java to sign up for a holy war, or jihad, against the UN forces.

The European Commission said that up to 200 people may have been killed in East Timor on Friday.

Commission spokesman Ricardo Levi told a news conference in Brussels yesterday that the commissioners had been briefed on a report “from our representative in the region” that between 150 and 200 died in Friday’s killing.

Posted in Indonesia