|Subject: SMH: Indonesia likely to stall, impose
Date: Sun, 12 Sep 1999 16:29:26 EDT
Sydney Morning Herald Monday, September 13, 1999
Peace-force shape emerges
By PETER COLE-ADAMS, Defence Correspondent
As the world waited for Indonesian assent, the shape of an international peacekeeping force for East Timor was emerging yesterday.
One key element lay in a weekend comment by the Prime Minister, Mr Howard, who said in Auckland that the likely American involvement on the ground, apart from previously foreshadowed help in transport and logistics, would be akin to Australia's role in the Cambodian peacekeeping operation.
Australia provided two things to that United Nations exercise, which ran from February 1992 to October 1993. One was the commander, General John Sanderson; the other was the entire communications structure for the UN peacekeepers and administration, as well as for the subsequent election. To put that in perspective, General Sanderson recalled last night that Australia sent only about 550 troops to Cambodia out of a total of about 16,000 from 34 nations.
Australia has already offered to play the leadership role in East Timor, but defence analysts say American help in transporting contingents from other countries to Dili, and in providing communications, would be critically important.
Mr Howard said the Australian Defence Force was "extremely pleased" with what the US was ready to do.
The US has immense heavy-lift air and naval capabilities, without which it would be impossible for many foreign contingents to get to Dili quickly. Assuming Indonesia agrees to a multi-national force, there are now four nations of the Association of South-East Asian Nations that are prepared to contribute: Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore. Others committed or likely to participate include Britain, New Zealand, Canada, Sweden, France and Portugal.
Initially, a multi-national force is likely to be relatively small. Australia could get about 2,000 troops on the ground very quickly, backed by some hundreds of New Zealanders and British, and (with US transport) the Malaysians. Their immediate task would be to secure the Dili airport, the seaport and perhaps Baucau. Many more troops will be needed before they venture into the militia-infested hinterland. The degree of danger would depend, regardless of any undertakings given in Jakarta, on the attitude of Indonesian troops on the ground. The feeling in Australian Defence circles is that the force would be able to deal fairly quickly with militia opposition, given "robust" rules of engagement.
But there are many imponderables. Some analysts suspect Jakarta will try to impose all sorts of conditions to gain time, including perhaps a ban on Australia providing ground troops or a strictly limited mandate for the force. One thing is certain: if the Australian contribution is increased to 4,500, as Mr Howard has suggested, it would place a huge strain on Australia's capacity.
Mr Michael O'Connor, of the Australian Defence Association, says the army could sustain a brigade-strength commitment of up to 3,000 troops indefinitely, but anything larger would eventually involve calling up the reserves.
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