Subject: SMH: Australian military on alert for poll rescue
Date: Thu, 26 Aug 1999 15:42:31 EDT

Sydney Morning Herald Friday, August 27, 1999


Military on alert for poll rescue

By PETER COLE-ADAMS, Defence Correspondent

Australia put military units on standby yesterday to evacuate about 200 Australians, and other foreign nationals, from East Timor after Monday's vote on the future of the province.

The Defence Minister, Mr Moore, and the Foreign Minister, Mr Downer, told their Indonesian counterparts, General Wiranto and Mr Ali Alatas, about the decision in advance.

Mr Moore described it as a "necessary and prudent step" in view of heightened tensions, violence and intimidation in the lead-up to Monday's ballot.

Neither Mr Moore nor the Chief of the Defence Force, Admiral Christopher Barrie, would go into detail, but they confirmed that military elements in Darwin, Townsville and elsewhere were involved in the planning for a possible evacuation and had been put on increased readiness for possible deployment.

Military analysts suggest the fast catamaran, HMAS Jervis Bay, or Australia's fleet of Hercules aircraft would be required, and that the parachute regiment or the Perth-based Special Air Service might be needed - in addition to combat-ready troops based in Darwin and Townsville - to secure embarkation points.

But Mr Moore said last night that Australia would send troops only in conjunction with the United Nations and with the approval of Indonesia.

"But we stand ready, and [are] making plans, to evacuate Australians if the position deteriorates," he added.

The Australians include observers, civilian police and military liaison officers attached to the UN mission, as well as aid workers and journalists.

Meanwhile, Australia and the United States intensified diplomatic pressure on Jakarta to bring the pro-autonomy militias under control.

The US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific, Mr Stanley Roth, said in Canberra that a successful resolution of the East Timor problem could give Indonesia a special claim for international help to restructure its economy.

But he warned there would be negative consequences if the independence-or-autonomy ballot and its aftermath were marred by a security breakdown. "It won't be business as usual ...," he told the National Press Club. "They [the Indonesians] will pay a price if this is not managed well."

Mr Downer said he had told Mr Alatas that it was "absolutely critical" to stop militia violence, that any threat of death or injury against Australians in East Timor was completely unacceptable, and that the consequences of harm to any Australian would be "very serious indeed".

Labor's foreign affairs spokesman, Mr Brereton was on his way to Dili yesterday as a member of Australia's 10-member observer mission for Monday's ballot.

He said more than 438,000 people had shown courage in registering to vote but would be going to the polls against the backdrop of months of violence and intimidation.

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