Subject: Analysis of Indonesia's new initiative on East Timor
Date: Thu, 28 Jan 1999 11:35:42 GMT
From: tapol@gn.apc.org (TAPOL)

Analysis of Indonesia's new initiative on East Timor

The announcement made yesterday by Foreign Minister Ali Alatas in Jakarta, following a meeting of the cabinet, that Indonesia will allow East Timor to separate from the Republic of Indonesia following the election of the country's Supreme Legislative Assembly, the MPR, if the people of East Timor reject Indonesia's proposal for wide-ranging autonomy has been welcomed in many circles as being a new departure in policy by the Habibie Government. Taken together with the government's agreement to place Xanana Gusmao under house arrest by allowing him to stay at a private residence in Jakarta which will be declared to be an extension of the prison system, yesterday's announcement will certainly reduce the pressure on the Habibie Government to agree to an internationally acceptable solution to the question of East Timor. It is no coincidence of course that the announcement was made the day before high-level talks are due to begin in New York under UN auspices.

In his statement yesterday, Alatas made it quite clear that Indonesia will continue to pursue its proposal for 'wide-ranging autonomy' and totally rejects the idea of a transitional period or whatever length at the end of which a referendum can take place. Waspada quotes him as saying, 'Why should we give them all the freedom they want under autonomy at our expence for five or ten years, after which they will turn round and say Goodbye.' Alatas has plumbed new depths in his contemptuous disregard for the prolonged suffering of the people of East Timor.

So what is Jakarta trying to do? Has it really changed its position? And why did the Australian Prime Minister's letter to Habibie on Canberra's shift in policy apparently play such a critical role in persuading Habibie and his cabinet to agree to this new position?

We should not forget that when the Canberra shift was announcement, the Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman expressed 'deep regret', adding that it would have 'an adverse effect on the search for a just, comprehensive and internationally acceptable solution to the problem'. So what has changed?

There is a common thread in the two policy shifts by Canberra and Jakarta, namely that while creating the impression that a shift has taken place, they both are based on the assumption that in fact nothing will change. Another common factor is that both governments have been compelled to respond to public pressure, in the case of Australia, domestic public opinion, and in the case of Indonesia, international pressure and the groundswell of opinion in East Timor against integration and in rejection of the autonomy proposal.

Australia speaks of an act of self-determination - while not explaining what that will be and as far as I have seen, carefully avoiding using the word referendum - taking place at the end of a fifteen-year period of autonomy, and until such time, will continue to recognise integration and crucially, to exploit East Tiomor's oil. Foreign Minister Downer was quoted as saying that Australia was still opposed to independence for East Timor but if that was their choice after fifteen years, 'we will have to live with that'.

Jakarta says that if the East Timorese people reject autonomy, it will propose that the newly elected MPR allow East Timor to separate. Critically, they say nothing about how the views of the East Timorese will be tested. Alatas has repeatedly asserted that opponents of integration represent only a tiny minority of the East Timorese people. We can be quite sure that he knows it will be impossible to prove that Indonesia's autonomy proposal is rejected by the majority of East Timorese.

And why can he be so certain? For the answer, we must turn our attention to the situation in East Timor itself, where well-armed para militaries - let's call them death squads - have been let loose on the population and as many as twenty people may already have been killed since the start of this year, while hundreds if not thousands of people have fled their homes to seek refuge elsewhere. This widespread campaign of terror is clearly directed at intimidating the people and targetting individuals who are calling for a referendum. The purpose of this campaign is clear: to roll back the massive upsurge of pro-referendum opinion in East Timor that has occurred since the resignation of Suharto last May. Alatas, whose has staked his whole career as foreign minister on reaching a solution on the question of East Timor strictly within the bounds of integration, can feel sure that armed forces and its death squads will ensure that the autonomy proposal is not rejected. [Interestingly, a large number of police were rushed from East Timor to Ambon last week to deal with the horrific assaults on Christians there, suggesting that the security forces are prepared to give the death-squads free rein in East Timor.]

There is of course more to Jakarta's apparent policy shift on East Timor than the question of East Timor itself. The Habibie government is very weak and totally lacks legitimacy, the armed forces have been widely discredited and are still licking their wounds. Unrest is occurring throughout the archipelago, whether prompted by the grave economic crisis or by forces let loose by Suharto and his clique and ABRI has shown itself to be totally incapable of coping with these outbreaks of violence. Habibie and Wiranto appear to be at odds on how to cope with the crisis with the latter turning in despair to opposition leaders to help him solve the crisis and pleading now with Suharto to stop promoting mayhem. This cannot have helped Habibie's role at the helm of the Republic in his vain attempts to stem the crisis.

In this vacuum of power, the government (it's hardly an entity that is worthy of being called a 'government') has been forced to make a gesture on that most critical of all foreign policy matters, East Timor. Who knows, this may also be aimed at ensuring the its foreign benefactors, notably the World Bank, Japan and other donors will see this 'new departure on East Timor' as grounds for granting Indonesia the massive new credit, in the region of $10 billion during the current year, it so desperately needs.

Yesterday's announcement is a sign of grave weakness at the heart of government in Jakarta and a recognition that until it can project acceptable signals about East Timor, its chances of solving its domestic and international difficulties are virtually nil.

Clearly, the international community must call Indonesia's bluff by exposing the reign of terror now underway in East Timor, by calling for the disbandment of the para-military death squads and the withdrawal of Indonesian troops from the territory. This must be accompanied by dispatching UN monitors to the territory. The Indonesian government must be pressed to release Xanana Gusmao unconditionally to recognise him and Bishop Belo as being essential participants in negotiations for a solution to the question of East Timor.

These are the prerequisites for the restoration of calm in East Timor and the creation of conditions in which a referendum can take place as soon as is realistically possible.

Carmel Budiardjo


TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign 111 Northwood Road, Thornton Heath, Surrey CR7 8HW, UK Phone: 0181 771-2904 Fax: 0181 653-0322 email: tapol@gn.apc.org Campaigning to expose human rights violations in Indonesia, East Timor, West Papua and Aceh

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