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Pentagon Not Planning East Timor Intervention

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 8, 1999 – DoD is not planning to provide peacekeeping troops to East Timor, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said Sept. 8.

"The United States is not planning an insertion of any peacekeeping forces," Cohen said at an impromptu press conference at the Pentagon. Rather, he said, Indonesia should act quickly to protect its citizens.

Cohen said the United States cannot act as the world's policeman and has to be selective in deciding where it commits troops. "I think it's premature for the United States to be talking about any peacekeeping force at this time," he said.

Cohen said the international community is looking at ways to convince the Indonesian government to stop the rioting and attacks in East Timor.

During an earlier news briefing on Sept. 7, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said it is up to Indonesia to "provide for the security of its own people in East Timor as well as United Nations workers and other foreigners in East Timor."

He said U.S. officials have received assurances from Indonesian officials that they will protect all on East Timor. Indonesia instituted martial law on the island, and troops from off the island are going into the area.

"There are some signs that the Indonesian army is beginning to be more aggressive in protecting the U.N. workers in the capital of East Timor, Dili," Bacon said. The United Nations has sent a team to East Timor to assess the security situation, he said.

TV reports from the island show soldiers looting houses and loading furniture and appliances onto military trucks. Many fires have been set throughout the city. News reports say that since the Aug. 30 vote for independence, that many pro-independence Timorese have been killed by anti- independence militias.

Bacon said if a noncombatant evacuation order goes out, the Australian military will handle it, he said. "We hope that won't be necessary."

Bacon said the U.S. government cannot have instability in Indonesia. "[The rioting and fighting in East Timor] is destabilizing in this part of Asia," Bacon said. "Indonesia is a huge country. It stretches more than 3,000 miles in length. It spans one of the major sea lanes in the world. It's a country of many peoples and many languages. It's the most populous Muslim country in the world. And it's very close to a number of our important allies including Australia. So we do have an interest in maintaining peace and order in that important part of the world."

East Timor was a Portuguese colony until 1975, when the Timor political party Fretilin declared the territory to be independent on Nov. 28. Nine days later the Indonesian military invaded the island, and it was annexed as the country's 27th province in 1976. The legality of Indonesia's administration of East Timor, however, is disputed by the United Nations.

Following the annexation, conflict broke out across the island. To contain the independence-seeking guerrilla forces, the Indonesian military and special police forced thousands of East Timorese into "resettlement camps" under military guard.

Indonesia has characterized the situation as civil war. Although the guerrilla movement continued throughout the 1980s to resist annexation, Indonesia faced little opposition to its policies on the island. Indonesian President B.J. Habibie announced earlier this year his intention to hold a referendum in East Timor, allowing its people to choose between autonomous status within Indonesia or outright independence.

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