White House: E. Timor crisis putting Indonesia to test
Still no plans to send U.S. troops
September 8, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Clinton administration said repeatedly Wednesday it has no plans to send U.S. troops to East Timor to quell the militia-led violence that began more than a week ago after residents voted in favor of independence from Indonesia.
White House National Security Adviser Samuel Berger said the crisis is "a test of whether Indonesia is genuinely moving toward democratic rule and political stability."
Berger hinted that failure by Indonesia either to resolve the crisis or to request the assistance of the international community could result in a withholding of Western financial support to the populous island nation.
He said any international peacekeeping force would be assembled at the request of Indonesia and with its consent. Berger said no decision had yet been made by the United States on the nature of its participation.
"The Indonesian government has said it intends to address this situation on its own. But today we have seen little evidence of that. If this continues to be the case, then it should invite the international community to assist in restoring order and security," Berger said.
He also said that any such force would be "overwhelmingly Asian in character."
Defense Secretary William Cohen also said it was up to the Indonesian government and the international community to respond to the growing post-election violence in East Timor.
"The United States is not planning an insertion of any peacekeeping forces," Cohen told reporters on the Pentagon lawn.
He called upon the Indonesian government to act "swiftly and effectively" to stop anti-independence militia groups from using violence against East Timorese who voted to become an independent nation.
Cohen said the international community continues to look at "a number of levers it can pull" to put pressure on Indonesia to resolve the crisis, including economic isolation. He said market forces are also playing a role.
"I think it's premature for the United States to be talking about any peacekeeping force at this time," Cohen said.
Cohen: U.S. must be selective
The U.S. government, however, would join other countries in reacting to any serious instability in the region, he said.
He did not spell out what that reaction would be, but Cohen repeated assertions that the United States cannot act as the world's policeman and has to be selective in deciding where it commits troops.
Berger put it more bluntly.
"Because we bombed in Kosovo doesn't mean we have to bomb in Dili," the provincial capital, Berger said.
There has been widespread violence in East Timor since the referendum nine days ago, giving rise to a number of calls for the establishment of a U.N.-sponsored international peacekeeping force.
The Clinton administration has made clear it has no plans for any high-profile involvement in such a force but also has not ruled out the possibility of some support role.
If such a force is formed, "we would obviously look at ways to be helpful," State Department spokesman James Rubin said Tuesday.
Military meeting planned in Jakarta
White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said, "We will look at what is the appropriate level of assistance we can give, whether it be logistical or technical support or other. But I can tell you that there's been no decision made on that."
Meanwhile, a spokesman for U.S. Pacific Forces Commander Adm. Dennis Blair confirmed that Blair would visit Indonesia this week. The Malaysian news agency Bernama reported he would meet Thursday with Indonesia's top commander, Gen. Wiranto, in Jakarta.
The spokesman, Lt. Col. Dewey Ford in Honolulu, said he had no details on the visit.
Cohen said military-to-military contacts with Indonesia would continue, although there have been no joint military exercises since June 1998. A U.S.-Indonesian training exercise that focused on humanitarian and disaster relief activities concluded August 25.
The Pentagon said Tuesday that two U.S. warships are in the region for scheduled military exercises. They include the USS Mobile Bay, a cruiser, and the USS O'Brien destroyer. The exercise, called Crocodile '99, is set to begin mid-September and run into October.
Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.
U.N. to abandon compound in East Timor
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