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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 11052

Press Conference, Prime Minister’s Courtyard, Parliament House

Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 15/09/1999

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 11052

Subject(s): UN Security Council resolution

15 September 1999

Subject: UN Security Council resolution

E&OE………………………………………………………………………………………

I would like to very warmly welcome the passage of the resolution by the Security Council. It’s a very wide ranging resolution and it provides ample legal authority for the multinational force to carry out all of the tasks which will be appropriate in the circumstances.

Can I thank the Secretary-General of the United Nations for the skill that he’s displayed in relation to the whole issue. It’s fair to say that on this occasion the speed with which the Security Council has acted has been particularly impressive and compares very favourably with the speed of action in other comparable situations.

It is our desire, of course, to see the multinational force in East Timor as soon as possible. I’m not in a position this afternoon because there are required further discussions with our military personnel and with other nations to announce the exact time. That will come. Clearly the circumstances require that it would be as soon as possible. And our aim naturally is to have a peacekeeping force in East Timor as soon as possible.

We want a wide participation by the ASEAN countries as had always been our desire. And as late as an hour or so ago I held discussions with the Prime Minister of Thailand regarding participation by the Thai [inaudible], at least in the advance party and then subsequently in the multinational force.

I believe there will be, as is appropriate, a very significant element of ASEAN participation. It will also be necessary and I am hopeful that it will be forthcoming that there will, in the initial stages at least, be co-operation between the multinational force and the forces of the Indonesian Army.

It is an historic resolution. It’s a major hurdle cleared. It is now only a matter of time and I hope a very short period of time before the multinational force is installed in East Timor and goes about implementing the mandate that’s been given to it by the Security Council.

Australia, at the request of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, has accepted leadership of the multinational force. And we will work very closely with the Security Council and we’ll work very closely with the nations that will be contributing to the composition of that force. And, of course, all Australians as we approach the time when our own forces will depart, will have particularly in their thoughts the safety of the members of the Australian Defence Force, of the men and women who will be taking part in this operation and they will, of course, remain the prime concern of the Australian people.

JOURNALIST:

Do you agree with President Clinton’s views today that there is a need for joint exercises before the force goes in?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don’t think it’s going to be feasible to have joint exercises if you could get the force in quickly. I’m not sure that President Clinton’s remarks were quite in that context. We don’t have any plans to have joint exercises before they go in. I think if you try to do that you would be delaying the thing for some considerable period of time. And I don’t think anybody wants that kind of delay.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, taking into account the political sensitivities in Jakarta, is it essential that one of the ASEAN countries is in there in the advance force?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, as far as we’re concerned we’d be delighted but…

JOURNALIST:

But is it a necessity?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, these things are a trade-off, in the end, between speed of entry and diversity of the entering force and the world wants action. If we can have both, if we can have quick entry and diversity of the entering force, that’s fantastic.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think you can?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we’re working on it.

JOURNALIST:

And Australia is prepared to go in by itself if it [inaudible]…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look, Australia has always been ready. We’ve got the resolution. We’ll act quickly. We’d like to have a diverse group go in because we’ve always wanted participation but I guess we’re more ready than anybody else. So, we’ll just see how that evolves over the next 24, 48 hours. If we can have both, fantastic, I think that’s what everybody would want.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, can you give us any indication of the size… the men in the advance forces?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I can’t. I’m going to very careful I don’t start behaving other than as a Prime Minister. I mean, many of these operational matters are best answered by the CDF because he’s more of an expert on those matters than I am.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, I’d have something to say about that but some of these things about the size of the advance party and that, it is better that the military answer those questions otherwise I might give the wrong information.

Mr Cole-Adams, yes.

JOURNALIST:

Are our military chiefs at the moment negotiating with the Indonesians on the..[inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER:

There is an enormous amount of contact going on at the present time. The Deputy Chief of the Defence Force has been in Kuala Lumpur today. He’s coming back through Jakarta. There’s been a lot of contact. There’s contact with the Thai’s, there’s contact with a whole range of other countries. They work together very closely and they haven’t waited for the passage of the resolution, they’ve been working together over the past few days and I am confident that at a military level the speediest co-operation possible will occur. Now that we have political sanction and a political umbrella for the whole operation the military people can in a quite unrestrained way get together and work it out as expeditiously as possible. There is an enormous amount of co-operative good will between the military forces of regional countries and our own ADF and that’s one of the very beneficial legacies of what’s gone on over recent years.

JOURNALIST:

How fast can humanitarian aid be able to be provided now that you have some kind of security arrangement?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we are working on that at the moment. We’re keen to make food drops. It remains our hope that we could make them in the next day or two depending upon the sort of assurances and clearances we get. There have been discussions at a political level with the Indonesian authorities and there are now some discussions going on at an operational and military level with them. We’re very keen indeed to make some food drops as soon as humanly possible. Obviously the psychological value of the passage of the resolution is important. It will provide a further impetus towards stability and a climate of accommodating the provision of humanitarian assistance.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible] rules of engagement ….

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I can assure you of this, that the rules of engagement will be adequate. They’ll be fully consistent with the sanction and mandate given by the Security Council. And one of the things to note about the Security Council resolution is that it’s quite wide and in that sense it’s different from some Security Council resolutions in the past which produced those very difficult situations where people literally watched things occur that shouldn’t have been allowed to occur. Now, that isn’t a problem with this resolution. And I can tell you that the rules of engagement will be quite wide and comprehensive but their precise form I can’t tell you of and I think I’d refer that question to a later time. But they are being worked on and I’m quite sure they’ll be very full and very adequate and they’ll certainly reflect both the spirit and the detail of the Security Council resolution.

JOURNALIST:

Will peacekeepers be able to disarm militias…?

PRIME MINISTER:

They will be sufficient and adequate to allow the force to do what the Security Council wants it to do. That includes peace enforcement.

JOURNALIST:

Indonesian troops, Mr Howard, are they going to be able to stay in the province or be brought out?

PRIME MINISTER:

There will be co-operation between the forces. And what happens in each individual situation will be something that is determined operationally at the time.

JOURNALIST:

Is this actually a peacekeeping force or a peace enforcing force?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, if you look at the resolution that answers the question. It involves enforcement as well as keeping.

JOURNALIST:

Did you get everything that you wanted in the resolution?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, yes. We are very satisfied with the resolution. We think it covers all appropriate contingencies.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, your discussions with the Thai Prime Minister, is that an indication that you expect in any advance party an Australian-Thai mix?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well let me say that we talked in a very positive way about Thai participation. I don’t think it’s for me to make announcements about the character of another nation’s participation in a multinational force.

JOURNALIST:

Did you speak today, or will you speak to President Habibie about this?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I haven’t spoken to him today, no.

JOURNALIST:

What’s your view of reports of a scorched earth policy planned for East Timor from before the time of the vote and that was known of by the Indonesian Government….?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t think I have any comment to make beyond what I’ve said before, and that is that there was always going to be a difficult situation. But any possibility of getting a peacekeeping force into East Timor before the ballot was an absolute pipe dream. I mean it belonged to the realms of the totally unreal and those who still peddle the argument that you could have got a peace force into East Timor before the ballot are completely out of touch with reality.

JOURNALIST:

Were you aware of any suggestions…?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, Karen, the question of what I was aware of and what I wasn’t aware of has been dealt with a hundred times in the past. We knew that the situation was going to be difficult. Everybody knew the situation was going to be difficult. But it would have been more difficult if we had been running around the world trying to assemble a peacekeeping force before the ballot because if we’d have done that there would have been no ballot. And can I tell you that the thing that has given great impetus to what has happened over the past week is the moral authority deriving from the fact that 78% of the people of East Timor voted for independence. If you hadn’t have had that I don’t think you’d have had the momentum for a peacekeeping operation of the type that has developed over the past week.

JOURNALIST:

Do you expect to see any more refugees coming out of East Timor now that the peace keeping force has turned up?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that’s always possible and we will continue to adopt a sensitive humanitarian approach. One more and then I think…you’ve got to file. I’m always worried about your deadlines.

JOURNALIST:

What provisions do you have for West Timor and the people who have been transported over there. Will this force be able to go to West Timor?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. West Timor is not part of East Timor and it has no legal authority to go there.

JOURNALIST:

So what about the predicament that…?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we’ll continue to make what representation, to bring what pressure to bear we can on the Indonesian Government in relation to that. So I mean one thing at a time. I mean it is conceivable that once the peacekeeping force is there and you have more stable conditions some of those people may come back. But I just can’t answer that question at the moment. We have United Nations’ sanctions for a force going into East Timor. Self evidently that does not authorise it to go into West Timor which remains part of the Republic of Indonesia.

JOURNALIST:

… East Timorese people who were taken to West Timor….?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah I understand but we get back to the discussion we were having last week. How do you do that without the consent of the Indonesian Government. I mean please, can we have a touch of, you know, reality to this. We will try naturally to persuade the Indonesian Government, to work with us on that, and we’ll try very hard to do that. And we’ll be putting the view that if those people want to come back they should be allowed to come back. But in the end that will require persuasion. We can’t use force to achieve that and we won’t be using force to achieve that. That’s the only point I seek to make and I think we should bear that in mind.

JOURNALIST:

Will you be seeing the troops off?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, certainly. And I will invite the Leader of the Opposition to come with me.

JOURNALIST:

When will that be?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don’t know. I thought I said that at the beginning.

[ends]

Transcript 11052