Subject: The Age: Cosgrove Favors Truth Commission for E. Timor

The Age [Melbourne] Thursday, April 13, 2000

Cosgrove favors truth commission


The former commander of the International Force in East Timor, Major-General Peter Cosgrove, has said that a truth and reconciliation commission could be a "pathway to the future" for the territory's people.

General Cosgrove said after addressing a foreign affairs think tank here that reuniting those who opposed East Timor's independence and the majority who supported it was one of the most difficult tasks facing the United Nations.

He said that East Timorese leaders had likened the challenge to "mixing oil and water", but said that a forum similar to that used in South Africa under former President Nelson Mandela may help.

"I don't know whether a truth and reconciliation agenda would work there, but it is certainly worth exploring," he said. "Reconciliation is at the heart of a politically stable East Timor."

The UN Security Council has shelved a formal recommendation by its own human rights team to establish such a commission, and the Indonesian Government has gained the crucial support of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in lobbying for the right to investigate the atrocities itself before international intervention was considered.

The complex politics of the Security Council suggests that it is unlikely to change its stand without clear evidence of a major Indonesian cover-up. That would leave the heavy cost of establishing a truth and reconciliation commission in the hands of East Timor's first independent government and its closest supporters, including Australia.

General Cosgrove said he believed it would be worth the investment of at least examining the option of a commission.

The general has been on a round of meetings in the US over the past week, discussing the lessons learned from East Timor with key Clinton administration members and military and diplomatic officers.

Last week he made headlines by describing the UN bureaucracy as a "great amorphous blancmange". On Tuesday he clarified the comments after his address to the International Peace Academy in New York.

"The UN could not reasonably expect to be any different, given its huge structure and the need ... to be accountable and representative. My advice to mission commanders was: `Don't focus on the UN and groan on about the inertia of bureaucracies - adapt to it, understand it, then get on and do your job'," he said.

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