Subject: BG editorial: US Role in E Timor

The Boston Globe March 4, 2001, Sunday ,THIRD EDITION EDITORIAL; Pg. E6


DURING A CAMPAIGN debate on foreign policy, then-candidate George W. Bush commended the international peacekeeping effort in East Timor led by Australian troops that arrived in the territory after Indonesian-backed militias went on a rampage in September 1999. Bush suggested the United States would do well to back such an operation with logistical and moral support but without providing American peacekeepers.

It is true that the peacekeepers have been able to administer East Timor without US troops. It is equally true, however, that Washington has a unique capability to protect the Timorese because of the Pentagon's history of training and arming the Indonesian military.

These old ties, as well as the history of US backing for Indonesia's occupation of East Timor, should add up to an American sense of responsibility for what happens there.

As Nobel Peace Prize-winner Bishop Carlos Belo wrote in a recent letter to Bush, much needs to be done to heal the wounds of the occupation and to prepare the Timorese for a successful transition to independence.

Welcoming Bush's approval of the peacekeeping effort, Bishop Belo wrote: "Your statement on this matter strongly implied that you would support the continuation of this mission. In fact, the presence of the international peacekeeping force under UN auspices will be badly needed in East Timor for the foreseeable future to guard against border attacks by militias and Indonesian forces."

Because the murders of three UN refugee workers by militias last September caused the UN to withdraw all its people from refugee camps in Indonesian West Timor, the remaining refugees - between 65,000 and 100,000 - have been left at the mercy of the same militias responsible for the massacres, rapes, and arson in East Timor that shocked the world a little more than two years ago.

As Belo told Bush, the militias that murdered the UN workers "could not have operated without the connivance of Indonesian army elements." Belo was too diplomatic to say that the United States should draw on its special relationship with Indonesian military leaders to have them clamp down on the militias terrorizing unprotected East Timorese refugees in the camps of West Timor. He did say, "It is time for the militias to be disarmed and disbanded."

If Bush wants to support the peacekeepers in East Timor without sending US soldiers there, he should tell the Indonesian military to allow UN workers into the refugee camps and to call off the militias. He should also back US assistance as proposed in an "East Timor Transition to Independence Act" introduced in the House by Democratic Representatives James McGovern of Massachusetts and Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island.

The United States should also back an international tribunal to make possible an accounting for crimes committed in East Timor.

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