Subject: FEER: Living Dangerously
Date: Sat, 17 Jul 1999 09:16:40 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Politics & Policy

East Timor : Living Dangerously: Violence and uncertainty fuel worries about the forthcoming Timor poll

By John McBeth in Jakarta

07/15/1999 Far Eastern Economic Review

The signs are not good as East Timor heads towards a United Nations-organized ballot on its future, now scheduled for late August. At stake may be the question of whether the former Portuguese colony should accept Jakarta's offer of autonomy. But for most East Timorese it has become a high-stakes vote on independence.

The sympathies of East Timor 's Jakarta-appointed Governor Abilio Soares clearly lie with the pro-Indonesia militia. He brandishes a map outlining the proposed partition of East Timor , annexed by Indonesia after its 1975 invasion. It shows five western districts remaining in Indonesia, with a demarcation line slicing through the heart of Dili, the territory's capital. Partition is not something the Indonesian government subscribes to, but it underlines the tension between the opposing sides in East Timor after months of bloodshed and pre-vote manoeuvring.

In the past week humanitarian workers and UN staff have come under attack from armed pro-Indonesian militia. This has led to growing concerns for security in East Timor and increased calls for an armed UN peacekeeping presence. A deterioration of the situation could have repercussions extending beyond Timor itself. Indonesia's slow recovery from economic crisis could be complicated if donors start linking further assistance with progress towards Timorese self-determination.

Further afield, Australia is among countries eyeing the security situation with some alarm. It has placed troops on heightened alert 800 kilometres away in Darwin. Other countries, including the United States, are also beginning to voice strong concern.

And then there are other uncertainties. Vote-counting delays from Indonesia's national election are prolonging the wait for the formation of a new government. Even if the Timor ballot goes ahead under its current schedule, it seems little thought is being given in Jakarta to what might follow. "If the autonomy package is accepted, then the way forward is clear," says Dino Djalal, the Foreign Ministry's spokesman on East Timor . "But if it's for separation, then we don't know what will happen. There's no real blueprint."

Across the Timor Sea in Darwin, the Australian government has ordered the army's Darwin-based 1st Brigade to its highest state of readiness since the Vietnam War. Officials insist it is not an extraction force, but Australian defence analyst Bob Lowry says it's clear contingency planning is being advanced: "They wouldn't put it on a higher alert status without some thought that it would be used. Historically, they've been reluctant to do that because of the high costs involved."

In the meantime the danger to UN staff and relief workers continues. Ian Martin, the head of the United Nations Assistance Mission on East Timor , flew to Jakarta on July 7 to seek assurances from Foreign Minister Ali Alatas and armed-forces chief Gen. Wiranto about improved security. His mission followed the worst incident so far: Pro-integration militia had attacked a UN food convoy 30 kilometres west of Dili, and then threw stones at an evacuation helicopter.

Unlike operations that have taken place in Bosnia and Cambodia, the 600 UN electoral workers plus 330 unarmed police advisers and military liaison officers are not protected by a peacekeeping force. The 6,200 Indonesian policemen, on whom they rely, have so far been unable or unwilling to prevent attacks against UN personnel. The Indonesians told Martin they are prepared to send 1,200 more.

The vice-chief of Australia's defence staff, Air Marshal Douglas Riding, met Wiranto in late June to persuade him to do more to put a lid on the pro-integration militias. But some feel this is insufficient. "The pressure isn't sustained enough," says Lowry, a one-time army attache in Jakarta and the author of a book on the Indonesian military. "They have to marshal support from the United States and Britain to get them to play a part, as well."

That appears to be happening. On June 30, the U.S. Senate voted 98-0 in favour of a tougher policy in support of a free and fair ballot, saying it would influence future decisions on loans and financial assistance to Indonesia. Gen. Joe Ralstan, vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has talked on the phone with Wiranto. Senior diplomatic sources say Defence Secretary William Cohen will soon add his voice to the outcry.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has already postponed the ballot once, from its original August 8 date to around August 21. But UN officials say they are still worried about arrangements for the poll.

Under autonomy, East Timor would be promised effective self-rule, with Jakarta responsible only for external defence, foreign policy, parts of the judicial process and currency. But the Indonesians have never made any serious effort to inform the East Timorese about what is being offered, leaving that to the UN as well. Says Djalal: "The Timorese have no idea what autonomy means." After what they have been through, many may not care.

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