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ASEAN Keeps Cool While Timor Overshadows APEC

By Selwyn Manning

It is clear the crisis in East Timor is to overshadow Auckland's APEC Foreign Minister's meetings tomorrow.

ASEAN countries have already expressed concern that attention to the atrocities being carried out in East Timor by pro-Indonesian militia could derail APEC¡¯s trade agenda.

China is playing a cool stance, keeping its distance from any talks of military intervention in East Timor by western countries. And other ASEAN nations are clearly nervous about taking a critical stance against their powerful neighbour, Indonesia.

US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, and British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, have arrived ahead of the APEC entourages, with other foreign ministers arriving tonight.

A special meeting tomorrow is scheduled for tomorrow morning, separate from APEC, to discuss East Timor.

Indonesia¡¯s President Habibe has snubbed the meeting, calling off his visit to APEC earlier this evening.

Indonesia also confirmed it will not allow a foreign peace-keeping force into East Timor. This position had earlier been stressed by the head of Indonesia¡¯s armed forces, General Wiranto.

The ASEAN stance makes tomorrow¡¯s special meeting a predominantly western alliance. Australia is expected to chair the meeting and is expected to push for an aggressive diplomatic message to Habibe to instruct his forces to create calm in East Timor or face a foreign peacekeeping contingent in the former Portuguese colony.

The time of tomorrow¡¯s special meeting has yet to be confirmed.

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