While the government and military leadership in Jakarta have vowed to cooperate with the peacekeeping mission, their previous promise to rein in the militia meant very little on the ground. "There are different power centers competing for control over Indonesia, and all decisions have to be negotiated among them," says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell. Jakarta has effectively admitted that it's lost control of at least some of its own forces in East Timor. The New York Times reports that General Prabowo Subianto, a close ally of the former dictator Suharto and a rival to current military leader General Wiranto, wields considerable influence among officers on the island. That, together with rising nationalist sentiment against international intervention and the Indonesian government that authorized it as well as the specter of war crimes tribunals shadowing those officers who helped organize the militias' killing spree – could leave the peacekeeping force marching straight into a shooting war.
The Aussies are going in, and they're prepared for the worst. Prime Minister John Howard warned the nation Wednesday to expect casualties, after Australia heeded a U.N. request to head up a mission to restore order to East Timor by "all necessary measures." The first Australians will arrive by the weekend to head up a multinational force of 8,000 drawn mostly from Asian countries. And ending the violence in the territory will be their most dangerous mission since the Vietnam war. The operation's primary task will be to disarm the anti-independence militias who, assisted by elements of the Indonesian military, continued Wednesday with a campaign of terror against a civilian population that also now faces mass starvation. The mission's success will depend in large part on the fate of the Indonesian military units in East Timor there is no provision for withdrawing those units in the current agreement, and they're unlikely to roll out the welcome mat for the peacekeepers.