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Cohen Takes East Timor Concerns to Australia, Indonesia

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii, Sept. 28, 1999 – Defense Secretary William S. Cohen's first order of business as he heads for Australia is to learn firsthand what progress is being made in the beleaguered Indonesian province of East Timor.

Besides meeting with Australian Defense Minister John Moore in Cairns Sept. 28, Cohen was slated to meet with 260 U.S. troops staged in Darwin for deployment as part of the international peacekeeping force in East Timor.

The province is struggling to establish an independent democracy that is backed by the United Nations but has mixed support from Indonesia, itself. Cohen said Indonesian military activities against pro-democracy factions, which have included disappearances and shootings, are unacceptable. The United States will do all it can to help make democracy work in East Timor, he said.

The United States is providing intelligence and communications support and is willing to help in other ways necessary as the situation unfolds, Cohen said. "We are providing as much support as we can," he said.

"Australia deserves a great deal of credit for taking the lead on this. It's quite a commitment on their part," Cohen said. "We will provide the lessons that we have learned from our own peacekeeping missions," including how to deal with displaced persons and logistical problems.

"This is a very strong relationship that we have. We look to the Australians as key, strategic partners," he said.

After visiting the U.S. troops in Darwin, Cohen will visit Jakarta, where he said he will strongly encourage the Indonesian government to cooperate with the international peacekeepers.

"It's important that stability and security be established, certainly in East Timor, as quickly as possible, that it become clear that this peacekeeping mission has to be successful, that we would expect the Indonesian government to cooperate to make sure that it is successful," he said.

Cohen will carry this message not only to his defense counterparts in Jakarta but to other senior leaders including President B.J. Habibie. As in past visits, he said he will encourage transition to a democratic and stable country. National elections there are slated for November.

This is the third visit by Cohen to Southeast Asia as defense secretary, but he said his interest in the region extends to his days as a member of Congress. He said the region is critical to worldwide security and stability and that he will again carry a message of U.S. interest and support to each of the places he visits.

From Indonesia, the secretary will travel to Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines before returning to Washington Oct. 5.

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