Subject: SMH: Trepidation not cheers greets E. Timor agreement
Date: Sat, 01 May 1999 08:42:06 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Received from Joyo:

Sydney Morning Herald 26/04/99

Trepidation not cheers greets agreement


It was promoted as a historic event, an agreement on self-determination for East Timor after 24 years of hostile occupation and the loss of more than 200,000 lives.

But there was no fanfare, no celebration at the United Nations on Friday. Just trepidation, suspicion and questions - lots of questions.

A long line of international diplomats formed outside the offices of the UN's Asia-Pacific section shortly after Indonesia and Portugal finally agreed to the framework for a vote on East Timorese autonomy.

All wanted to know what could be read between the lines of the bare statement that had accompanied the announcement.

Were they really being asked to accept that the same Indonesian troops who are accused of arming and encouraging the pro-integrationist militia in their killing sprees should now be trusted to provide security for the vote?

Is it really an act of self-determination under the UN's definition when the Indonesian Government will not allow a referendum on the choice between autonomy or independence but only a lesser level of vote, which it insists on describing as a "consultation"?

A referendum would be binding, a consultation would not. And, most importantly, if an unlikely peace could be constructed and the vote was able to proceed, would Indonesia really accept the verdict?

They were all good questions, and none could be answered definitively. The only certainty was that any agreement struck in the plush offices of the UN headquarters in New York would be extremely difficult to implement on the blood-stained streets of East Timor.

The parties have agreed to come back to New York on May 5 to sign the agreement, allowing time for the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Mr Ali Alatas, to consult his government on the draft proposals on security and on the modalities of the vote.

Diplomats said a compromise had been reached on security that would see some form of UN involvement, but for the time being, not a peacekeeping force.

This has not stopped senior UN officials from canvassing contingencies for a future peacekeeping mission, even if the continuing bloodshed in East Timor suggests there would be precious little peace to keep. Neither Indonesia nor Portugal would elaborate on the draft security agreement, which remains the most important element of the package. In a significant shift in rhetoric, Mr Alatas said this week that his government was no longer talking of "disarmament" in East Timor, but calling for a voluntary laying down of arms by both the pro-Jakarta militia and Falantil, the armed wing of the Fretilin resistance movement.

Portugal has long pushed for a UN military presence on East Timor, but Indonesia has staunchly resisted, insisting its armed forces, ABRI, control security.

It now appears that ABRI will retain principal responsibility for protecting peace in the period leading up to the vote. What happens beyond that depends on how Indonesia reacts to the outcome of the poll.

There is a growing fear at the UN that Indonesia could simply wash its hands of East Timor and leave it to descend into civil war if its people vote against the autonomy proposal and opt for independence. Observers believe President B.J.Habibie's Cabinet significantly increased the possibility of the autonomy package being rejected by gutting it last week of several key elements.

Indonesia removed a clause giving control over East Timor's lucrative natural resources to a future autonomous government and excised the rights to a national flag, anthem and independent representation on international bodies.

Dr Habibie and Mr Alatas have said they would ensure all the necessary constitutional changes were made to allow East Timor to move to full independence if autonomy was rejected. However, diplomats question whether they can issue any such assurance in the unpredictable political and economic climate that has engulfed the territory in the past year. There are also grave concerns that ABRI's staunch opposition to any loosening of Indonesia's grip on East Timor could lead to a military uprising. History always comes at a price. The question diplomats are now asking is how much higher a price will the East Timorese have to pay?

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