The United Nations plans to take control of the civilian administration in East Timor once an Australian-led multinational force establishes security in the Indonesian-occupied territory, senior U.N. officials and European diplomats said Wednesday.

Secretary General Kofi Annan told the foreign ministers of Indonesia, Portugal and Australia on Wednesday that the world body would accelerate its plan to take charge of virtually all government functions in East Timor, including courts, schools and hospitals.

Previously, the United Nations had planned to assume authority over the civil administration only after the Indonesian parliament votes in October to accept the Aug. 30 referendum in which East Timor's population overwhelmingly chose full independence, rather than autonomy inside Indonesia.

Indonesia has not agreed to relinquish control formally, but "what we will see is a de facto hand-over of power," predicted one diplomat. "Once the [multinational force] goes in and stabilizes the security situation, UNAMET [the U.N. Mission in East Timor] and the humanitarian agencies will start to" run the government.

Much of East Timor's infrastructure has collapsed in recent weeks as workers have fled the violence that followed the referendum. Public utilities--including water, electricity and telephones--have stopped working. Because Indonesian forces are planning a gradual withdrawal, diplomats say the United Nations has no choice but to fill the gap in tandem with the Australian-led force of about 7,500 troops approved by the Security Council early Wednesday morning.

Ian Martin, the U.N. special envoy to East Timor, "is already cooking up a plan for the reinsertion and redistribution of U.N. staff" who were forced this week to evacuate the U.N. compound, said a senior U.N. official.

Annan also wants to replace the Australian-led emergency force as soon as possible with a formal U.N. peacekeeping mission that answers directly to the U.N. hierarchy.

But U.S. officials said Annan may be trying to move too fast. One senior American diplomat said Australia wants to focus on restoring order and is reluctant to undertake a commitment to help the U.N. run the government. The official added that it may be months before U.N. peacekeepers are ready to replace the Australian-led force.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Australian and Indonesian military officers were trying to hammer out a final agreement on the multinational force. Diplomats familiar with the negotiations said the Australians refused a request to allow the Indonesian military to maintain control over certain districts of East Timor.

[Indonesia said today that it would cancel a four-year-old security pact with Australia because of Canberra's behavior over the East Timor issue, Reuters reported from Jakarta.]

State Department spokesman James P. Rubin reiterated Wednesday that U.S. participation would be limited to "hundreds of American servicemen and women, not thousands," primarily in the areas of intelligence, communications and logistics. "A very close ally, Australia, who has been with us through thick and thin, has asked for our assistance," Rubin said. "And we think, therefore, it would be appropriate help."

The limited U.S. role also appeared to have broad support in Congress. The House International Relations subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific passed a resolution endorsing the multinational force. "When we are presented with a humanitarian crisis, we cannot sit back like some immense couch potato," said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.).

The Timor Force

The U.N. Security Council has authorized a multinational force to restore peace in troubled East Timor. Australia has been asked to lead the force, which is expected to total about 9,000 troops.

Countries that have offered to contribute:

Australia: 4,500 troops, plus several naval vessels and transport aircraft.

Portugal: 1,000 troops, two frigates, a C-130 transport plane and four helicopters.

New Zealand: 700 troops, a frigate, a supply ship and aircraft will be available.

Thailand: 700 troops and 30 military medics and relief workers.

Philippines: 600 to 1,200 troops, mainly engineering and medical units.

Canada: 600 troops.

France: 500 troops and a frigate.

South Korea: 400 troops.

United States: Several hundred troops, mostly pilots to transport troops from other nations and help with logistics, communications and intelligence.

Britain: 270 troops and a destroyer.

Italy: 200 to 250 troops, plus logistical support.

Singapore: 21 medical personnel and possible logistical support.

Sweden: 10 civilian police officers and $1.2 million in aid.

Finland: $1 million in aid.

China, Russia, Malaysia, Fiji, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Argentina all have offered help although they made no specific commitments.

SOURCE: Associated Press