A peace to keep in East Timor U.N. force: U.S. must take part if it wants to retain influence in Asian affairs.


THE U.N. Security Council-authorized force is scheduled to land in East Timor on Monday. It cannot restore order too soon. The Australians are ready, but this should not be an all-Australian effort.

Indonesia's army shirked its responsibility to maintain order after the people of East Timor voted for independence in a plebiscite to which Indonesia had agreed and which the United Nations held. That army took part in the destruction. It encouraged or, possibly, was the militia that took young men from the population and executed them.

Australia is closest and understandably the most alarmed. Its involvement heightens anti-Australian feeling in Indonesia. The last thing Australia wants is a fight with its giant but troubled neighbor.

Washington, the keeper of the peace of Asia for a half-century, should prevent any such conflict.

Indonesia wants the peacekeepers to come from fellow members of the Association of East Asian Nations (ASEAN). The Philippines army would be an ironic presence, coming from a Catholic country that repressed a Muslim secession to protect a Catholic area's secession from a Muslim country. Manila wants to send physicians and engineers, not soldiers. Many nations are offering help, and all should be accepted.

President Clinton has not offered ground troops, but U.S. airlift, logistics and intelligence are essential. A major reason is to maintain the U.S. role in Asia. Washington can hardly intimidate China or North Korea from aggression if it won't get involved in East Timor.

Indonesia's occupation of East Timor in 1975 after Portugal set it free was never recognized by the United Nations. This is not a domestic Indonesian matter.

The mission involves persuading Indonesia's army and its commander, General Wiranto, to accept the authority of their own government. Washington should not allow such a necessary effort to go forward without being part of it.

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