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200 U.S. Personnel Will Join Forces Helping in East Timor

By Roberto Suro and Colum Lynch

President Clinton on Thursday authorized some 200 U.S. military personnel to assist an Australian-led multinational force that will try to restore order in East Timor, while the United Nations prepared an emergency airdrop of food rations to thousands of civilians who have sought refuge in remote woodlands.

“I have decided to contribute to the force in a limited but essential way, including communications and logistical aid, intelligence, airlifts of personnel and material, and coordination of the humanitarian response to the tragedy,” Clinton said.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Clinton said about half the U.S. personnel would serve on the ground in East Timor. The rest will be posted either in Darwin, Australia, which will serve as a staging area, or on ships offshore. Initially, the U.S. role will be to help transport troops and equipment from other nations to Australia, Pentagon officials said.

Operating under a U.N. Security Council mandate, the force is expected to total some 7,500 troops, with Australia providing about half the total, Clinton said. Portugal, New Zealand, Thailand, the Philippines and other Asian and European nations also pledged contributions.

At the Pentagon, Navy Vice Adm. Scott Fry told reporters the U.S. forces would be ready to move in 48 hours and that the administration had agreed to consider requests by Australia for additional personnel or equipment. “The door has got to stay open,” he said.

The largest and most sensitive U.S. contribution will be an intelligence team of about 50 people who will gather and analyze information about the Indonesian military and the pro-Indonesian militias that began a rampage after losing an Aug. 30 referendum on independence for the former Portuguese colony. The U.S. team will operate a Navy EP-3 electronic surveillance aircraft based in Darwin, and in East Timor it will run a secure communications center connecting the peacekeeping force with intelligence agencies from contributing nations, said a senior Pentagon official.