Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas said today that his government would place "no conditions" on an international force for East Timor but that he needed time to discuss details of the United Nations' proposal for the deployment of as many as 7,000 troops.
Alatas' remarks, coming just one day after Indonesian President B.J. Habibie agreed to allow foreign troops into East Timor, opened the door to a potential delay and again raised questions about Indonesia's willingness to permit peacekeepers to put down the killing, looting and burning that has consumed the territory since it voted for independence Aug. 30.
[Washington Post correspondent Keith B. Richburg reported from Jakarta that the United Nations on Tuesday closed its besieged compound in Dili and began evacuating 1,300 East Timorese refugees and most of its staff to Australia. The United Nations said it could no longer guarantee the safety of refugees and Habibie had given permission for the mass evacuation.]
Both U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and President Clinton today pressed Indonesia to let the force in quickly. In a meeting with Alatas at U.N. headquarters, Annan said he hoped to work out the details of an agreement by Tuesday afternoon.
"We are determined to move in a force as quickly as we can and without any conditions," Annan said before the meeting. He added that Habibie had assured him in two telephone conversations that Jakarta would not block the deployment.
"I think that he is determined to work with us in implementing the agreement and I hope the [Indonesian] military . . . will go along and follow the lead of President Habibie," Annan said.
The U.N. Security Council will "probably skip" meeting on Tuesday to give Annan more time for discussions, said the council's president, Peter van Walsum of the Netherlands.
Annan is scheduled to meet again with Alatas, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Portuguese Foreign Minister Jaime Gama. Alatas said is he seeking clarification on several aspects of the mission, including the military command structure that will oversee cooperation between foreign and Indonesian troops.
"I'm going to continue to discuss what this force will be, which countries will be represented in it, how fast can it come to Indonesia, all kind of details," Alatas said. "I'll be here as long as it takes."
Earlier, in Jakarta, the Indonesian army's spokesman, Brig. Gen. Sudradjat, said "the armed forces will simply not accept the involvement of Australian forces" in the peacekeeping force. But Richard C. Holbrooke, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said today that the United States would hold the Indonesian foreign minister to his commitment.
"If he starts to stretch this out while the Indonesian forces continue to rampage, that would be a major deception," Holbrooke said. "The Indonesians would be back in the depths of the mess they created and only just began to bail themselves out of."
"The timing is of critical importance. Timing is of the essence," Holbrooke told reporters, adding that the Clinton administration will urge the 15-nation Security Council to give the international troops "full authority to use force."
The Pentagon, meanwhile, reiterated that the United States will play only a supporting role. A high-ranking U.S. military officer said the American contribution to a peacekeeping force likely would involve only about 100 troops on the ground in East Timor.
The United States is offering to provide C-17 and C-130 transport aircraft to carry heavy equipment--but not troops, which can be ferried to East Timor by chartered civilian aircraft, the officer said. U.S. officials also have pledged to help with intelligence-gathering and long-distance communication links.
State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said the United States, along with other countries, was looking at the possibility of air drops of food and other supplies to refugees in East Timor.
A Security Council delegation, headed by Namibia's ambassador to the U.N., Martin Andjaba, returned from Indonesia today and issued a report saying there was growing evidence of Indonesian government involvement in the looting, murder and kidnapping of East Timorese civilians. "The Security Council mission [is] in no doubt that large elements of the military and police authorities had been complicit in organizing and supporting the action of the militias," the report said.
The delegation charged that the aim of the Indonesian authorities was to rid the region of foreign observers and to "implement a coordinated, forced relocation program in which tens of thousands of East Timorese have been moved to West Timor."
Staff writer Bradley Graham contributed to this report from Washington.