/** reg.easttimor: 2646.0 **/
** Topic: Australia, US gear up for large military exercises **
** Written 4:59 AM Sep 5, 1999 by Joyo@aol.com in cdp:reg.easttimor **
Subject: Australia, US gear up for large military exercises
Australia, US gear up for military exercise
DARWIN, Sept 5 (Reuters) - Australia's armed forces are gearing up for the last stage of large military exercises with the United States involving nearly 20,000 troops, an Australian defence spokesman said Sunday.
The final phase of the long-planned joint exercise was expected to involve about 10,000 Australian and up to 7,500 United States personnel and be held in Australia and the Coral Sea from mid-September and in October.
But defence spokesman Steve Delaney told Reuters there was a possibility the size of the Australian contingent could be scaled back if the country decided to send peacekeepers to nearby East Timor. The territory has plunged into bloody chaos after voting overwhelmingly to shed Indonesian rule and become independent.
``It is possible it could be downscaled,'' Delaney said. ``Everything depends on the government's requirements, anything we need to do in relation to East Timor,'' he said.
Australia has proposed that a small peace-keeping force be formed, which could enter East Timor more quickly than a full-fledged United Nations operation, to quell rising violence in the territory as pro-Indonesian supporters take retribution for the vote result.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said on Sunday the United Nations was considering the proposal but that Indonesia was resisting. Australia's proposal needs the agreement of the Indonesian government and the U.N. Security Council.
The joint Australian-U.S. exercises are expected to take place every four years.
Delaney said a number of U.S ships were already in the northern Australian city of Darwin on a port visit.
The United States has said any decision to send additional U.S. personnel to East Timor would be made by the U.N. Security Council in consultation with interested parties, including Indonesia.
** End of text from cdp:reg.easttimor **