Subject: SMH: Anxious watch on East Timor
Date: Sat, 17 Jul 1999 09:33:31 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Sydney Morning Herald Saturday, July 17, 1999

ANALYSIS Anxious watch on East Timor


With voter registration for East Timor's historic ballot on independence or autonomy under way yesterday, Australia and other interested countries will be watching to see how Jakarta lives up to its promises to improve security in the violence-wracked province.

Regional diplomats say Canberra's repertoire of diplomatic messages, in particular, is close to being exhausted. "Australia has played almost its entire hand," a senior diplomat said this week.

This was emphasised unintentionally by the Foreign Minister, Mr Downer, with his plaintive statements earlier in the week on the ABC's Lateline program, that Canberra had made 50 representations over the past four months about Indonesia's tolerance and support for the pro-integration militias - representations that Jakarta has, on the face of it, ignored. Jakarta has been under intense pressure and scrutiny in the past two weeks: from the United Nations, the United States, Australia and allied governments.

This week's visit to Dili by a Cabinet delegation was the result of heat being applied. The outcome - some arrests of militia members over attacks on UN posts and guarantees of free movement and access for UN staff - shows Jakarta may be moving to live up to its promises under the May 5 accords. The next turning point will come half-way through the 20-day voter registration period when UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan makes another assessment of security in East Timor. Should he decide Indonesia is still not meeting its promises and announce another postponement of the vote, more difficult options will have to be considered.

Australia has already sent Mr Howard, Mr Downer, and Defence Minister John Moore to talk tough about the militias. What next? Probably our most senior military man, Admiral Chris Barrie, would be sent for a tough talk with the Indonesian Defence Minister and armed forces chief Wiranto.

So far, strategists have been reluctant to take this step, holding it in reserve for the next difficult stage. "What happens the day after the vote?" asks one diplomat, pointing to the likely problem of maintaining order when one side learns of victory, the other defeat.

Canberra and other regional governments have been trying to get the three parties to the May 5 agreement - Indonesia, Portugal and the UN - to consider this at talks which resumed in New York yesterday. The senior diplomat said: "After the vote, the role of an alert evacuation force phases out and instead you are looking at having a force ready to deploy to keep peace. But you can only go when asked, and you need to go pronto, otherwise you will be in the impossible situation of peace enforcing, which no-one wants."

What has not been publicly spelled out, but presumably made plain to Indonesia, are the threat of further sanctions, such as isolating its military from allied contacts, and denial of economic assistance through international financial institutions.

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