Malaysian government  must be prepared to send the most number of troops to join the East Timor Multi-National Force compared to other national contingents if it wants to replace Australia as head of the UN peacekeeping force

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Friday):  DAP welcomes the final decision of the Malaysian government to join the East Timor multi-national force.

Early yesterday,  the Defence Minister Datuk Abang Abu Bakar Mustapa announced during  an  Armed Forces Day television interview that Malaysia will not participate in the Australian-led multinational force to restore peace in East Timor, although  Malaysia would be involved in the second-phase peace-keeping mission under the auspices of the United Nations.

It is a relief that the Malaysian government had reversed  its decision not to join the multi-national force as this will be tantamount to Malaysia abdicating from its international responsibilities and commitments, denuding Malaysia of the right to take the high moral ground in international relations.

Earlier,  the  Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar had expressed the same sentiments as those of the Defence Minister when he said  it was not a "good development" for  Australia to head the peacekeeping force in East Timor as  Asean countries should be given preference to play a role in resolving the dispute and conflict in East Timor in view of the fact that  Indonesia was a member  of the regional body.

After the government reversed its decision not to join the East Timor Multinational Force headed by Australia, Abu Bakar  said later yesterday  that the First Phase Multinational Force would be in East Timor for  six weeks, to be followed by the Second Phase UN Peacekeeping Force.

He hoped that the Second Phase would  comprise Asean countries under the  auspices of the UN and that  the UN commander  would be an officer from an Asean country as East Timor is in the Asean region.

Today, Abu Bakar said Malaysia is sending a 39-men complement comprising 16 officers and 13 other ranks to East Timor and that a Malaysian army general has been  appointed the Deputy Commander of the 8,000-strong United Nations multinational  force to  restore law and order after rampaging pro-Jakarta militias killed thousands  following the East Timorese vote for independence from Indonesia last month.

He added that Malaysia would be taking part "in a big way" in the UN  peacekeeping force six weeks after the deployment of the force in East Timor.

Abu Bakar’s announcement that a Malaysian has been appointed Deputy Commander of the multinational force to East Timor was immediately challenged by  the Thai government which had announced yesterday that Thailand will take the post of deputy commander of the operation below Australia's overall command.

A Thai government spokesman said that  UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan "wanted to see Thai cooperation and involvement as the leader of the ASEAN countries" and that "The Australians have proposed that the Thai contingent will take sole deputy command with a duty to see liaison  between ASEAN and Australian forces".

A 33-men Thai detachment left Thailand to join the international force this morning, and Thailand will send  1,500 soldiers including combat troops and sniffer dogs as well as other specialists by before the end of October.

From press accounts, Australia will be contributing an estimated 4,500 troops to the multi-national force,  while the Philippines is sending a 120-member military contingent to join the first wave of international peacekeepers which will enter East Timor on Sunday to be followed by about 120 others shortly after. The Filipino military high command has said that the Filipino troops are expected to stay in East Timor for between three to six months before the UN blue beret       group will have assembled.
The Malaysian government seems to be interested to stake a claim to want to replace Australia as head of the UN peacekeeping force in the second phase of the peacekeeping operation, which it estimates would be in six weeks’ time, and if so, the it   must be prepared to send the most number of troops to join the East Timor Multi-National Force compared to other national contingents.


*Lim Kit Siang - Malaysian Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Democratic Action Party Secretary-General & Member of Parliament for Tanjong