The Clinton administration yesterday gave Indonesia 24 to 48 hours to bring about "some clear, major change on the ground" in the strife-torn province of East Timor and said that otherwise the Indonesian government should invite a United Nations force to restore order.
While State Department spokesman James P. Rubin called the situation "deeply disturbing," U.S. officials stopped short of pledging American troops and said that without Indonesia's consent a U.N. force was not likely to intervene to stop bloodshed by militias in East Timor.
Both the Clinton administration and the United Nations came under pressure from those seeking greater action or commitment. Australian Prime Minister John Howard said in a radio interview that he had asked President Clinton to contribute U.S. troops to a peacekeeping force. In New York, East Timorese independence leader and Nobel laureate Jose Ramos-Horta asked for a freeze on international aid and loans to Indonesia by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Ramos-Horta and human rights groups also criticized the United Nations for acquiescing in Jakarta's decision to declare martial law in East Timor.
For now, U.S. and U.N. officials were giving Indonesia's government, and fresh battalions of Indonesian soldiers, one last chance to restore order in East Timor, where army-backed militias have been on the rampage since the province voted overwhelmingly against autonomy in favor of independence in a referendum last week.
"The United States is not waiting, the United States has been actively engaged round the clock," said Richard Holbrooke, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Australia has taken the lead in planning for a possible peacekeeping force because its government is concerned that violence in East Timor could destabilize Southeast Asia and send a wave of refugees toward Australian shores. Under the Australian plan, a 5,000-member peacekeeping force would go into East Timor if Jakarta fails to restore order, U.S. officials said. The troops could arrive in East Timor within a week to 10 days, and they would need to stay for at least a year, the officials said.
Nations that have agreed to participate include Canada, New Zealand, France, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Thailand and Pakistan.
Because of Pentagon concerns that U.S. forces are already stretched thin by commitments in Bosnia and Kosovo, the U.S. role would be limited to ferrying in allied troops and supplies and supplying intelligence and communications, a U.S. defense official said.
The president of the U.N. Security Council, Peter van Walsum of the Netherlands, said a five-nation team representing the council in Jakarta would seek Indonesia's approval for a multinational force in East Timor. But he said there would be no intervention without Indonesia's approval. Holbrooke also said that final decisions would not be made until the team's return this weekend.
"Many governments have mentioned the possibility of sending troops without Indonesian consent, but they have always said 'provided the Security Council gives the green light,' " Holbrooke said. "I can assure you that the Security Council will not give the green light if there is no permission on the part of the Indonesian government."
U.S. officials said such permission would be difficult to secure both because of China's long-standing opposition to intervention in the internal affairs of countries and because it would be dangerous to intervene in a country whose military forces could actively oppose peacekeeping forces.
While the Clinton administration viewed the declaration of martial law as Jakarta's last-ditch effort to restore order, Ramos-Horta said that it "gives a legal framework, another cover for killing East Timorese."
But some analysts said U.S. policymakers were in a difficult position because of the struggle in Jakarta to make the transition to democracy just a year after the fall of Suharto, the country's longtime leader. "Indonesia is in such a state of flux, it makes for messy policymaking," said Douglas Paal, president of the Asia Pacific Policy Center. "The best of pressure tactics may not yield results in Jakarta."
Nonetheless, there were efforts to bring pressure on Jakarta yesterday. Both the World Bank and IMF said they were "closely monitoring" the violence in East Timor and called for a "rapid response" by the Indonesian government. The IMF said it was reviewing whether to send a team that has been scheduled to go to Indonesia in mid-September, and the World Bank said Indonesia's handling of East Timor could affect its decision on whether to proceed with a $300 million disbursement.
In the wake of the 1997 Asian financial crisis and the drop in oil prices last year, Indonesia has received substantial assistance from both institutions. Last year the World Bank lent $2.1 billion to Indonesia, about three-quarters of it to support policy reforms and the rest for specific projects. This year the World Bank plans loans of $243 million for projects and $900 million of budgetary support.
Indonesia's relations with the two institutions were already strained by an investigation that showed that funds from Bank Bali were siphoned into the accounts of officials from the ruling political party.
"Productive relations between Indonesia and the international community, including the IMF, depend on Indonesia adopting a constructive approach towards ending the humanitarian disaster in East Timor," said Rubin, the State Department spokesman.
Staff writer Dana Priest contributed to this report.
CAPTION: A student protester attacks riot police near Parliament in Jakarta.