Within hours of the announcement of martial law in East Timor yesterday, Human Rights Watch sounded an alarm about the the security situation and human rights abuses there and urged Indonesia's financial aid donors to continue to prod President B.J. Habibie to invite an international peacekeeping force to the tiny territory.

In a statement faulting the Indonesian army for allowing anti-independence militia groups to act with impunity in East Timor, Human Rights Watch said the imposition of martial law "could make a terrible situation worse." The New York-based organization said it is concerned that, with most of the foreign media out of East Timor and most foreigners evacuated, the army could "now use martial law as a cover for furthering the work of the militias."

East Timorese voted overwhelmingly last week for independence, instead of autonomous status within Indonesia, and violence by militias opposed to secession has escalated dramatically since the outcome of the referendum was announced on Saturday.

"The army says the violence is out of control, but in fact, the army's behind it," charged Sidney Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "The army organized and armed these militias in the first place."

Diplomatic Formula Are we witnessing the flying carpet version of Ping-Pong diplomacy?

When it was time to push the envelope on substantive ties with China in 1972 and with Vietnam in 1989, in advance of diplomatic relations, Jeremy J. Stone, president of the Federation of American Scientists and his group were involved.

"We are specialists in trying to establish scientific ties with countries not formally recognized by the United States. We are originally a peace group of scientists," said Stone as he prepared to meet five Iranian scientists who arrived in Washington yesterday--the highest such delegation from Iran in 20 years. "This is a case of a very important step, like the Ping-Pong players from China, with a scientific group coming here to start scientific relations before diplomatic relations can be established," Stone said.

Washington says formal ties are blocked by a number of issues, including Iran's state-sponsored terrorism, its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons and unresolved questions of compensation for American property seized during the 1979 Iranian revolution.

Stone took the first group of American scientists since the 1979 revolution to Iran last December and in return invited this delegation, which is led by the head of Iran's national academy of scientists and includes three prominent engineers and a physician.

"When I went to Iran, almost all the scientists I ran into were graduates of American universities--Illinois, California and Cal Tech, [and] they all spoke English. This was very different from the experience we had in China. There, they produced one scientist who had graduated from Harvard in 1911, and they had to prop him up," Stone said with a chuckle.

The five Iranians are here at the invitation of the federation and the National Academy of Scientists.

During their week-long visit, they will be introduced not only to the academy, but also to the American Physical Society, the American Chemical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. They will also meet with nongovernmental groups interested in the environment and energy efficiency, Stone said.

The Fund's a Friend Indeed

World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn informed Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit yesterday that the bank is preparing a billion-dollar package for Turkey to help finance the costs of reconstruction and recovery in the aftermath of last month's devastating earthquake.

"This package will take the form of $300 million in reallocations from existing loans to Turkey and up to $750 million in new long-term loans, which would be committed over the next three months," Wolfensohn said.

Two World Bank teams are now working with the Turkish government to survey the costs of reconstruction and restoration of services, and to assess the quake's impact on the economy. "We are aware that the overall costs of reconstruction will be much greater than those we can finance," Wolfensohn said. "Consequently, the bank is working with other international agencies and countries that could offer bilateral assistance to ensure that remaining costs are financed."

Round Trip

Israeli Ambassador Zalman Shoval is back in Washington at the request of Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who asked him to stay on until the end of the year.

Shoval returned here Sunday night after flying home to help out with the visit of Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright.