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`Deputy sheriff' policy change stuns Asians

JOHN Howard's announcement that Australia will act as the US's ``deputy sheriff'' in regional peacekeeping has stunned his countrymen.Buoyed by the deployment of Australian troops in East Timor, the prime minister revealed the ``Howard doctrine'' in a magazine interview, turning his back on almost 30 years of foreign policy. He has promised increased spending for a new Australian defence and foreign policy.

The East Timor deployment, Mr Howard told The Bulletin, defined Australia as a medium-sized, economically strong regional power, acting in a deputy role to the US in maintaining peace.

The prime minister told the magazine said that Australia had a responsibility within its region to do things ``above and beyond,'' bringing into play its unique characteristics as a Western country in Asia, Mr Howard said.

The change of policy has appalled Indonesians, who see years of carefully crafted friendship being destroyed at a stroke. More importantly, it confirms the suspicions of Jakarta's most extreme nationalists that Australia has a hidden agenda in East Timor. Even westernised Indonesians are convinced that Canberra wants to take over East Timor to establish a colonial foothold in Indonesia.

Mr Howard told the magazine: ``We were ourselves in Asia over the past few weeks. We were defending the values we hold as Australians. We were willing to be in dispute with our nearest neighbour, to defend those values. And we were able to build on our associations with nations outside of Asia in the course of that.''

Salim Said, an Indonesian political analyst, said: ``Howard is like a 19th century European standing on a beach and thinking he will have to watch out for the little brown uncivilised neighbours.''

Mr Howard ``has done more than any previous Australian Prime Minister to damage Australia's relations with Asia since the `White Australia' policy was abolished in the 1960s,'' said Lim Kit Siang, the Malaysian opposition leader.

David McGibbon, the chairman of Australia's Joint Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, was also concerned: ``The real danger we face in all this is being seen as a post-colonial relic, isolated from Asia in a corner of the Pacific.''

(The Times, London)

Meanwhile the United Nations was accused of presiding over a whitewash yesterday when it emerged that an investigation into crimes against humanity in East Timor will be carried out in co-operation with Indonesian politicians and generals.

Humanitarian agencies and the independence movement have widely varying estimates of the numbers of civilians killed since the referendum four weeks ago, ranging from a few hundred to 25,000. At a meeting in Geneva today, the UN Human Rights Commission is expected to pass a resolution calling on the Indonesian government's own human rights commission to take part in the investigation of atrocities carried out by the Indonesian military during its campaign of terror in East Timor. The Indonesian National Commission for Human Rights, set up by the former Indonesian dictator, President Suharto, is to be included after Asian members of the UN commission blocked previous, stronger, resolutions.

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