U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told Indonesia Friday to immediately accept a peacekeeping force for violence-racked East Timor or face responsibility for "what could amount . . . to crimes against humanity."
"In any event, those responsible for these crimes must be called to account," he said at a news conference.
Annan said a number of governments in the region, including Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines and Malaysia, had assured him of their willingness to take part in an international force to help Indonesia fulfill its responsibility to bring order and security to the people of East Timor.
"I urge the Indonesian government to accept their offer of help without further delay," he said.
"If it refuses to do so, it cannot escape responsibility for what could amount, according to reports reaching us, to crimes against humanity," he said.
He said the Security Council was prepared to authorize an international peace force if Indonesia assented.
"Hundreds of thousands of East Timorese have had to abandon their homes. Many of them have been forcibly relocated to West Timor and other parts of Indonesia. The fate of many others is unknown," said the secretary-general, who has been in repeated contact with Indonesian President B.J. Habibie, urging him to bring the situation under control.
Meanwhile, alarmed by assaults on U.N. personnel in East Timor, President Clinton earlier in the day accused the Indonesian military of fueling militia attacks against civilians who favor independence in the former Portuguese colony.
"It is now clear that the Indonesian military is aiding and abetting the militia violence," Clinton said, as he traveled to New Zealand to join leaders of major Asian-Pacific nations for an economic summit. "This is simply unacceptable."
Clinton's remarks contrasted sharply with his speculation just a day earlier that the Indonesian armed forces might be willing but unable to quell the militia rampages that reportedly have killed hundreds and forced thousands to flee the tiny island province.
It was still unclear Friday how the United States and other Pacific nations might react, although Clinton's rhetoric appeared to increase the likelihood that they will establish an international peacekeeping force. Clinton met for two hours with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who advocates sending troops to stop the killing.
The United States already has cut its military ties to Indonesia and international lenders have frozen billions in loans. But Indonesia, the world's fourth-largest nation and a longtime U.S. ally, so far has refused to invite a U.N. force into East Timor, despite urging from China and other nations on the U.N. Security Council, which must approve such a U.N. force.
Drunk on stolen beer, pro-Indonesian militiamen menaced the U.N. compound in East Timor on Friday, smashing and looting vehicles and brandishing grenades to threaten East Timorese still inside after most of the U.N. staff were evacuated.
As Indonesian troops fired guns to intimidate the 80 remaining U.N. workers as well as several journalists and hundreds of refugees, militia extremists outside the compound walls chanted for them to be burned out. Gunfire sent two elderly women scrambling over a wall into the compound, shredding their arms on barbed wire.
A death toll from the days of violence has been impossible to determine. Estimates have ranged from 600 to 7,000 dead.
Demonstrators in Jakarta, Indonesia's capital, protested the international pressure on their country by urinating and smearing chicken dung on U.S. and Australian flags before burning them.
Comparisons to Kosovo and Cambodia have increasingly been made as television footage shows men, women and children, their hands raised, being herded at gunpoint from burning homes.
Indonesia calls the claims of forcible deportation nonsense, but U.N. officials report that an estimated one-quarter of the 850,000 East Timorese have fled their homes.
East Timor's people voted in a landslide for independence from Indonesia in a peaceful, U.N.-organized ballot Aug. 30. The vote triggered an orgy of violence by machete-swinging militias opposed to independence for the impoverished, half-island province.
The Indonesian military was charged with guaranteeing security, but has provided little, standing by and at times joining in the reign of terror.
The government has acknowledged the existence of rogue army elements and claims the problems can be solved through martial law imposed earlier this week.
However, the thoroughness of the savagery and depopulation in the past week suggests complicity at a very high level.
Refugees who have been forcibly shipped to neighboring West Timor remain under the control of the Indonesian military and the militias. Foreign journalists and aid workers have been threatened and attacked.
Meanwhile, Bishop Carlos Belo, the spiritual leader of East Timor, arrived in Lisbon, Portugal, on his way to Rome for an audience with Pope John Paul II. He called for a war crimes tribunal.
"We can verify that there is a genocide, a cleansing," said Bishop Belo, co-winner of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize.
The current impasse, coupled with continuing reports of atrocities against Timorese religious and political leaders, is certain to overshadow the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit this weekend.
The pressure for Clinton to act is mounting. Amnesty International, the human rights watchdog, warned that without immediate international action, thousands of Timorese resistance fighters and tens of thousands of refugees face a "death sentence."
"I'm appalled that the administration is arguing that we need the permission of the Indonesians to go in," said Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass. "That's like arguing that you need the permission of the kidnappers to free their hostages."
But GOP presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in an interview Friday that the administration should leave military action to Australia and other nations in the region. McCain said the Clinton administration has a poor track record of assessing when U.S. troops can improve a situation.