Subject: Guardian: Timorese Pay the Price For Stability

The Guardian [UK] Wednesday November 15, 2000

Timorese pay the price for stability

John Aglionby in Atambua, West Timor

International realpolitik proved more important than humanitarian concerns yesterday when the United Nations admitted it was better to keep Indonesia's president in power than to fight for 120,000 starving East Timorese refugees who have been held as political pawns in West Timor for the past 14 months.

A team of seven UN security council representatives, including Britain's deputy permanent representative, Stewart Eldon, said during a visit to Timor that no action would be taken against Indonesia's president, Abdurrahman Wahid, for failing to comply with the council's resolution ordering a rapid conclusion to the refugee crisis.

The mission's leader, Namibia's UN representative, Martin Andjaba, said just before leaving independent East Timor for Indonesian West Timor that he was "not here to punish Indonesia or to recommend to the security council to call for punishment".

"Our mission is not to destabilise," he said. "We do not want any confrontations. We want cooperation with the Indonesian authorities so everything can be done to address the issue of the refugees and bring them back to East Timor."

More than 170,000 refugees have already returned home but the flow of repatriation has practically dried up since after all international and the majority of local agencies pulled out of the region following the murder of three UN refugee agency staff in the West Timor border town of Atambua on September 6.

They were killed by a mob of pro-Jakarta East Timorese militia who, backed by elements of the Indonesian army, had been terrorising the refugees and the humanitarian workers since their arrival in September 1999 to help resolve the crisis.

The security council immediately passed a resolution calling for the disarming and disbanding of the militias, the prosecution of the murderers, the restoration of law and order, and a greater effort to help repatriate those refugees who want to return to East Timor.

Jakarta immediately deployed more than 5,000 troops and police to West Timor and, in a grand public display, began searching for weapons. More than 90 automatic rifles and hundreds of homemade guns were seized and several people were arrested in connection with the murders.

The UN representatives are in Timor to assess progress and to gauge the best way forward. The team is due to visit Atambua today, but it is unlikely to get a true picture of events; the trip is being carefully stage-managed. More than 1,000 soldiers have been deployed in the town.

They have already heard first-hand from newly returned refugees to East Timor that the reality in West Timor is that the militias and some military units are still terrorising the refugees, preventing them from making a free choice about whether to return to East Timor.

It is also clear that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other international agencies would face enormous hostility from the militias if they tried to restart humanitarian assistance and repatriation programmes in West Timor.

One UN source in East Timor said: "Everyone here in East Timor recognises that it's in no one's interests, least of all the refugees, to rock the fragile political position of President Wahid in Jakarta."

President Wahid is under increasing pressure to resign. The crisis in West Timor is just one of several battles he is fighting. Rapidly escalating separatist conflicts in Aceh and Papua, two financial scandals, his failure to end the country's prolonged economic turmoil and the government's inability to find the fugitive son of the former dictator, Suharto, are also being used as ammunition by his critics.

However, the international community regards Mr Wahid as the safest presidential candidate, according to the UN source. "The worry is that if Mr Wahid is forced out," he said, "Indonesia could very well descend into long-term political instability that might pave the way for a military takeover."

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