|Subject: AGE: SAS On Stand-by For East Timor
Date: Sat, 24 Jul 1999 12:09:52 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <email@example.com>
SAS On Stand-by For East Timor Violence Paul Daley, Defence Correspondent
07/20/1999 The Age Page 2
Australia's elite Special Air Service is on stand-by to evacuate United Nations observers and foreign diplomats from East Timor should the province's autonomy vote bring a dramatic increase in violence.
Defence and diplomatic sources have told The Age they expect the SAS to intervene if pro-Indonesian militias harm diplomats or United Nations observers - including the 50 Australian Federal Police officers who are overseeing the ballot.
Since the security situation in East Timor began rapidly deteriorating with the emergence of the militias early this year, the SAS has had a series of detailed briefings from Australia's military intelligence agencies at its headquarters at Swanbourne, Perth.
It is understood the intelligence briefings have included details of the strongholds, communications, transport and weapons capabilities of the militias, as well as profiles of their leaders and the nature of their links to the Indonesian Army.
They have also had briefings specifically relating to the protection and evacuation of staff at the recently established Australian Consulate in Dili.
Sources said the SAS had already been involved in on-ground reconnaissance in East Timor to judge the service's access to specific sections of the province in the event of emergency.
While the SAS will remain at its Perth headquarters throughout the autonomy vote, it is understood a number of the service's key personnel will be stationed at Darwin.
``Essentially the SAS is now on stand-by - has been for some time - as a precautionary measure,'' one source said.
``An assessment of the militias and, to a lesser extent, the guerrillas, would have us believe that one way for the militias to attract attention or disrupt the ballot would be to threaten observers, aid workers, foreign diplomats or media personnel.
``While a lot of ... attention has been focused on how to ensure safety of those there (in East Timor ), this is simply a commonsense contingency on how to get them out, and quickly, should the need arise.''
Decisions to include the SAS in military contingencies have coincided with increased concern by intelligence officials and the Federal Government about the Indonesian military's apparent inability - or refusal - to ensure the safety of UN staff in East Timor .
The depth of Australia's concern became evident last week when the Prime Minister, Mr John Howard, launched his strongest criticism yet of Indonesia's handling of the security issue.
It is understood that if the SAS responded to a specific security crisis in East Timor it would do so at the request of the UN and, ideally, with the blessing of Indonesia. But such a situation is potentially diplomatically fraught because Indonesia has so far rejected suggestions that armed foreign troops should form part of a peacekeeping operation while the East Timor poll takes place.
But sources said that, in the event of an emergency involving injured or abducted UN staff or other personnel, it was hoped Indonesia might be disposed towards SAS personnel entering the province because of past joint training exercises between it and Indonesia's own special forces, Kopassus.