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DATE=8/29/1999 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=TIMOR BALLOT (L-O) NUMBER=2-253229 BYLINE=ROBIN POLK DATELINE=CANBERRA INTERNET=YES CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Australian Prime Minister John Howard has told Indonesia's President B-J Habibie that Australian defense force units are on alert ahead of a ballot Monday in East Timor likely to see the province vote for independence. The Australian leader told his Indonesian counterpart he is concerned for the safety of Australians in East Timor, including a large media contingent covering the vote. Robin Polk reports from Canberra. TEXT: Mr. Howard said his country's defense forces are on alert in case it becomes necessary to evacuate any of the more than 200-Australian civilians, aid workers, and media representatives in East Timor. The Prime minister made his comments during a telephone call (Sunday) in which he emphasized the importance of a fair ballot in East Timor and the need for the security that will make it possible. However, a spokesman for Mr. Howard stressed that at no stage will Australia mount an occupation force. He said this would represent an invasion of Indonesian territory, a move that would require U-N approval. Australia has sent a contingent of civilian police to the province to help U-N representatives overseeing the ballot. The spokesman added that during their call Mr. Howard thanked President Habibie for the role he played in bringing about the East Timor ballot and democratic elections in Indonesia. The spokesman said the prime minister also stressed how important it is that the result of the ballot is accepted by all parties. Mr. Howard's call was made only days after several journalists, Australians among them, were attacked by militia forces sympathetic to Indonesia and opposed to East Timorese autonomy. The safety and security of journalists is a sensitive issue in Australia. It has long been believed that five Australian journalists were murdered by Indonesian troops 23-years ago during the invasion of East Timor, a former Portuguese colony. If Australian defense forces are needed, they will almost certainly be sent from Darwin, Australia's northern port. The Australian Navy's high-speed catamaran is docked there, and can carry 500-hundred troops. Australian Air Force Hercules troop carriers are also reported on standby. (SIGNED) NEB/RP/RAE 29-Aug-1999 09:53 AM EDT (29-Aug-1999 1353 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .

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