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Indonesia Asks U.N. for a Delay in Troop Deployment

By Colum Lynch

Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas said Monday 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.

Both U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and President Clinton Monday 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 he is 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 Monday 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 proof is in the pudding, the devil is in the details,” Holbrooke told reporters. “The timing is of critical importance. Timing is of the essence.”

Holbrooke added 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.