Subject: US to boost commitment to East Timor force: Cohen

US to boost commitment to East Timor force: Cohen

DARWIN, Australia, Sept 29 (AFP) - The United States is to boost its commitment to the multinational force for East Timor adding a helicopter assault ship with four heavy-lift helicopters, US Defence Secretary William Cohen said Wednesday.

The ship -- an aircraft carrier which carries helicopters -- will be stationed off East Timor by October 6 and will stay until at least the end of the month, he told a press conference.

The deployment will add another 60 people to the US contingent of 250 military personnel providing intelligence, communications, logistics planning, and airlift support to the UN-approved peacekeeping mission.

The helicopters will fly to either Darwin or Dili to pick up and transfer equipment to where it is needed in the ravaged territory.

The International Force for East Timor (Interfet) is led by Australia and is seeking to bring peace to the territory wracked by violence since the East Timorese voted for independence in the UN-organised August 30 vote.

Cohen earlier visited the US personnel gathered in the northern Australian port of Darwin on the first leg of a whirlwind Asia tour.

He was due to fly to Jakarta later Wednesday where he will meet on Thursday with General Wiranto, the chief of the Indonesian armed forces, President B.J. Habibie, and opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Earlier he called on Indonesia to allow tens of thousands of refugees who fled to Indonesian West Timor to return home to East Timor.

"It is now incumbent on the Indonesian government to help bring peace to East Timor, to help the people resettle," Cohen told the troops gathered at an Australian air base that has served as a staging area for the international peacekeeping effort.

Interfet is expected to reach around 7,000 personnel, with more than half coming from Australia.

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