Subject: IT: Editorial- Fate of East Timor
Date: Sun, 01 Aug 1999 11:32:07 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Received from Joyo Indonesian News:

Irish Times [Dublin] Friday, July 30, 1999


Fate of East Timor

A lethal political and psychological game is being played in East Timor between the United Nations and the Indonesian government as its people prepare to vote in a referendum on autonomy or independence. The UN Secretary General, Mr Kofi Annan, has once again postponed it, to August 30th, in recognition of grave defects in providing for a fair vote - prominent among them the fact that the Indonesian army has prime responsibility for ensuring security.

Tens of thousands of people have been forcibly displaced from their homes by pro-integration militias close to the army in an attempt to sway the result. This makes it difficult or impossible for them to register as voters, despite the valiant efforts of the United Nations Assistance Mission in East Timor to ensure a fair process with unacceptably limited resources.

Thus supporters of independence face an agonising dilemma over whether to call for a more prolonged postponement - effectively to allow a renegotiation of the agreement between the UN, Portugal (the colonial power) and Indonesia which would prevent such abuses taking place - or to press ahead with the referendum while doing their best to bring these abuses to international attention.

They must take full account of the changing political realities in Indonesian politics after the opposition party led by Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri won the legislative elections held on June 7th, although formal proclamation of the result has been delayed by the failure of smaller parties to ratify it. She remains sharply critical of the decision by President Habibie last January to hold the referendum on independence, but said yesterday she would respect the result.

Informed commentators suspect the military are still the chief power in the vast country, that they are resolutely against independence for East Timor and have numerous vested interests to defend in opposing it. There is also a genuine fear of disintegration in which independence would set a precedent for other territories subject to continuing vicious ethnic conflicts.

In these circumstances the case for holding the referendum sooner rather than later is strong, but only if urgent action is taken to rectify these abuses. International pressure can make a real difference in coming days and weeks. The appointment of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Andrews, as special EU representative for East Timor is a well-deserved tribute to his activism on the issue and a recognition that it has become a high profile question in Ireland's foreign policy.

Mr Andrews has an opportunity to press home urgently the case for disbanding the militias, enabling displaced people to register and beefing up UNAMET. He needs to encourage the major European states and especially the Clinton administration to exert pressure on Indonesia along these lines. Certainly there are conflicting political, strategic and economic interests at stake among these powers, given the fact that Indonesia is such an important country in the Asian region. Whether such human rights considerations are given real priority will be a significant test of the universalist principles put forward during the Kosovo war.

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