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Are we off to War Again?

The Pentagon said today it was considering plans to deploy a small number of U.S. forces to assist a U.N. Peace Keeping Force toEast Timor. Any deployment, however, would wait until a United Nations mission returns from the island, where anti-independence militia gangs went on a weekend rampage, the White House said today. The province has been in chaos since last week's independence vote.

"The U.N. team will report back within the next couple of days and make an assessment on any potential international peacekeeping force, and we'll take a look at that recommendation," White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said.

"Once they've made a judgment on that ... we will, as will many countries, take a look at whether we participate."

On Sunday, the Clinton administration raised the possibility that American forces could be used if Indonesia cannot stop the violence by its military and police forces in East Timor.

"Either Indonesia has to take care of the situation itself or allow the international community to come in," Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said during a visit to Vietnam.

Witnesses have said that Indonesian forces have marched thousands of civilians toward the docks today, while villages and city centers burn around them.

Additionally, about 200 U.N. workers and 2,500 East Timorese were trapped and under fire at the U.N. compound in Baucau, where Indonesian police were shooting volleys of automatic weapons fire.

The Indonesian Government, however denied it is driving refugees out of the Eastern Half-Island. The Government declared martial law today, which allows the military to shoot looters on site. "Either Indonesia has to take care of the situation itself or allow the international community to come in"

-- Albright

Australia has volunteered to provide 2,000 troops, and coincidentally, a large-scale Australian/U.S. exercise is ongoing in the area, coded " Crocodile " It is unclear as to whether any of these forces would be used, should the United States decide to help in any peacekeeping efforts.

Tatang Razak, a spokesman for Indonesia's U.N. Mission in New York, denied reports that the Indonesian military were expelling dissidents.

"The fact is many people would like to leave East Timor because of the situation, and they're helping them." Razak said.

Indonesia has controlled the island for 24 years, after invading the former Portuguese colony in 1975. Some sources estimate over 200,000 civilians have been killed since the original invasion.

The independence referendum came 24 years after Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese colony, holding it in an iron grip ever since. It is estimated that 200,000 or more civilians have been killed since 1975.

If U.S. forces are deployed to assist in a peace keeping force, this will make the 38th combat deployment of U.S. forces since the end of the cold war. A major complaint of military personnel is the amount of time they are forced to be away from family members. Although United States military strength has been cut by over one-third, overseas commitments have continued to increase. This is having a serious effect on morale, training, and retention. For the second year in a row, only the Marines are expected to meet their recruiting goal.

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