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Diplomacy Takes Over In Wake Of Habibie's Call

By Selwyn Manning

Key discussions on how to bring peace to East Timor while avoiding an escalation of tensions and violence in Indonesia is the challenge facing the international community gathered in Auckland today.

A host of world leaders are in Auckland for the final day of the annual APEC leader’s summit meetings.

Behind the scenes diplomacy was rife last night as ASEAN nation leaders huddled together to reach a consensus of where they stood as an Asian group on the Indonesian invite for an Australian lead United Nations peacekeeping force in East Timor.

Japan, the economic leader of ASEAN, spent much of yesterday schooling western diplomats on how to win favour with the Indonesian Government in Jakarta. Japan’s Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi accepted the role of appeaser. Mr Obuchi contacted Indonesian President B.J. Habibie yesterday counselling him to consider the international communities offer of a peacekeeping force in East Timor as the gesture of friendship rather than of an adversary.

“That is not something that Indonesia should feel ashamed about,” Mr Obuchi said.

Japan’s call was crucial. It contributes $2 billion in aid to Indonesia which equates to 60 percent of Indonesia’s net aid package. And yesterday, Japan was the most confident of the 21 nations gathered here in Auckland for a positive turnaround by President Habibie to allow peacekeepers into Timor.

Western media reports today state Indonesia’s own troops have been supporting a wave of butchery and arson.

Habibie's announcement last night surprised the Malaysian contingent here in Auckland. Malaysian diplomats believed that Indonesia’s decision would likely remain consistent with a refusal to allow an international force to aid peace in Timor.

Relief resounded throughout the western camp once Habibie’s turnaround decision broke on Scoop.

The international community had been left in an embarrassing situation of having to reiterate its stance time after time while it waiting for a response from Habibie.

Meetings in Auckland today between USA, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Canada, Japan diplomats will key information to their respective leaders.

The logistics of the international force and what size and when it will enter East Timor are being decided from the United Nations in New York.

Australia is ready to send troops in within days and the British told Scoop from Whitehall last night that it had up to 250 Gurkas, an infantry company, ready to deploy into East Timor. Its Naval ship HMS Glasgow is also in the waters off East Timor.

Diplomats in Auckland were this morning concerned that delays may result in the door to Timor being closed by Indonesia. The hope here is that the U.N. Security Council would fast track an international deployment with a 7,000 strong force drawn mainly from Indonesia's regional neighbours.

Certainly the Malaysians here in Auckland for APEC say their government is keen to meet its commitment to deploy ground troops into East Timor alongside Australia, New Zealand and Britain. What will be revealed today is what commitment, beyond logistical, will Japan, China, and the USA pull together to compliment a ground peacekeeping force.

Bishop Carlos Belo, of mainly Catholic East Timor, hopes the peacekeepers would land ``in 24 hours or 48 hours.''

In total: Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, New Zealand, Britain, France, Brazil and Portugal have also promised troops.

President Clinton last night was awoken at 1am to hear the news from Jakarta. He is “pleased'” by the breakthrough and reiterated that the USA would offer specialist troops for logistics and other non-infantry tasks.

Meanwhile back in Indonesia, B.J. Habibie’s government is instructing the pro-Jakarta militia to withdraw from East Timor and stop the violence. This will be the true test of who and what is in control in East Timor, the former Portuguese colony.

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