Subject: Indonesia must allow Timor refugees safe return: Cohen

Indonesia must allow Timor refugees safe return: US

CAIRNS, Australia, Sept 29 (AFP) - Indonesia must allow refugees in West Timor to return home safely to East Timor or face economic repercussions and international isolation, US Defense Secretary William Cohen said here Wednesday.

Cohen, who heads to Jakarta after talks in Cairns with Australian officials on the Australian-led peacekeeping mission in East Timor, said he would warn Indonesian officials that "the world is watching" their actions.

"The message I will deliver is that the Indonesian government has an obligation to see to it that the people who are now displaced into West Timor go back to their homes in East Timor," he said in an interview with Australia network WIN.

Indonesia must prevent the pro-Jakarta militias that have terrorized East Timor and driven thousands into the Indonesian west of the island "from in any way interfering or harming them," he said.

Failure to do so, he said, would have "serious consequences" for Jakarta's relationship with the rest of the world.

They "will certainly involve some isolation diplomatically, perhaps economic consequences as well," Cohen said.

His remarks echoed warnings Tuesday by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who warned Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas that Indonesia risked losing International Monetary Fund and World Bank credits unless it protected the refugees.

East Timorese resistance leader Xanana Gusmao, speaking at the United Nations Tuesday, said he was worried about the "many widows and orphans" who were being held in "concentration camps" in West Timor after being forced across the border by the militias.

Cohen is scheduled Thursday to meet in Jakarta General Wiranto, the chief of the Indonesian armed forces, President B.J. Habibie and opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri.

He was meeting here with Australian Defense Minister John Moore to review progress made by the International Force in East Timor (Interfet) in securing East Timor and to look at additional US support.

Cohen said Australia had made no formal requests for deployment of US combat troops as part of the mission, and reaffirmed the Pentagon's strong reluctance to send ground troops on another peacekeeping effort.

"We'll be supportive as much as we can. But the United States is very much stretched across the globe trying to make sure we can contribute to peace and stability," he said. "But we are not the global policeman."

Cohen also weighed in on a regional controversy over whether Australia is acting as Washington's "deputy" in southeast Asia.

"Australia is not deputy to anyone. Australia is a sovereign country that believes in a strategic relationship with the United States. It is not a deputy of the United States, nor is the United States the policeman," he said.

Cohen will travel from here to Darwin, Australia to visit some of the estimated 250 US military personnel providing intelligence, communications, logistics planning, and airlift support to the Interfet mission.

The small US contingent is backed up by the considerable resources of the US Pacific Fleet, particularly in the area of intelligence.

A joint intelligence center has been set up in Hawaii to support the mission, and a US Navy P3 Orion aircraft is conducting surveillance missions in East Timor.


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