Subject: IHT: Longer Stay in Timor Looms for Australians; Earlier EstimatesToo Rosy
Date: Sat, 25 Sep 1999 12:12:32 -0400

International Herald Tribune Saturday, September 25, 1999

A Longer Stay in Timor Looms for Australians

Earlier Estimates Already Seem Too Rosy

By Michael Richardson International Herald Tribune

SINGAPORE - After just six days in East Timor, the Australian-led intervention force now realizes that it will have to stay considerably longer than Australian officials had predicted.

As Indonesian troops withdrawing from the territory Friday set fire to the local radio station in Dili and the army barracks in the capital, and as shadowy paramilitaries continued to threaten foreigners, the reason for the extended deployment plan was plain: The scale of the devastation and potential violence confronting the UN peace enforcers is much greater than military planners thought it would be.

The prospect of Interfet, the International Force in East Timor, becoming embroiled in a protracted Vietnam-type conflict in the territory - with Indonesian Army special forces, or ''deserters,'' supporting thousands of militiamen in a guerrilla war - is causing increasing concern among Australian and allied military planners.

The commander of the British contingent in Interfet, Brigadier David Richards, said in Dili that he did not think a force of 8,000 foreign troops would ever be able to completely pacify East Timor or prevent guerrilla attacks.

''It's a tropical Northern Ireland here in many ways,'' he said. ''With 25,000 troops in Northern Ireland, the IRA was still able, if it wished, to do those things we are all very well aware of.''

The Australian defense minister, John Moore, told Parliament in Canberra on Thursday that the government hoped that ''within a year the situation in East Timor will have improved to the point that our forces can be withdrawn or at least significantly reduced, and we are certainly working with the United Nations to ensure this occurs.''

But he added that the government ''recognizes that there is the possibility that we may need to sustain a deployment for longer than that.''

In a statement to Parliament on Tuesday, when the initial deployment appeared to be going smoothly, Mr. Moore said the government hoped that the force would be replaced by a full UN peacekeeping operation ''as soon as possible, possibly within two or three months.''

He said Thursday that the peace enforcement phase of the operation was expected to last up to four months, before UN peacekeepers from Australia and other nations took over.

The Australian foreign minister, Alexander Downer, will fly to New York on Sunday for talks with the UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, on ''deployment and the process of transition to a UN peacekeeping operation in East Timor,'' Mr. Downer's office in Canberra said Friday.

Australian officials will only say that a UN military presence in East Timor will be needed ''for some considerable time.'' Analysts say it could be up to 10 years.

''We now face maintaining a peacemaking, and later a peacekeeping, force in East Timor, possibly for a decade, which is likely to sustain casualties in the early stages,'' said Richard Woolcott, a former Australian ambassador to Indonesia, ''as well as an obligation to support with substantial aid a broken-back, independent mini-state within the Indonesian archipelago.''

Meanwhile, insecurity, air and seaport congestion in Dili, and problems in training and integrating the different national components of the force have caused some delays in the military build-up in East Timor.

France said Thursday that it was asked by Australian military commanders to postpone by a day, until Saturday, the arrival in Dili of a French mobile surgical unit because of unsafe conditions prevailing there.

There are now more than 3,800 troops, of whom more than 2,500 are Australian soldiers, in the territory. The force, which received a mandate from the UN Security Council last week to use ''all necessary means'' to restore order, is expected to peak at 7,500 to 8,000 troops from at least 20 countries.

It will take ''a matter of weeks rather than days'' for the force to reach its full strength, Commodore Mark Bonser, joint commander of the Australian Defenses Force Northern Command, said Friday in Darwin, the staging point for troops and equipment going into East Timor.

Reports of dissent in the Thai contingent of the international force over the readiness of its Australian commander to confront the militias prompted an official Australian denial Friday.

''I don't believe there is dissent,'' an Interfet spokesman, Colonel Duncan Lewis of the Australian Army, told Australian television.

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