|Subject: IPS: Violence feeds fears of new quagmire
Date: Sat, 10 Jul 1999 16:49:05 -0400
From: sonny inbaraj <firstname.lastname@example.org>
RIGHTS-EAST TIMOR: Violence Feeds Fears of New Quagmire
By Sonny Inbaraj
DARWIN, Australia, Jul 6 (IPS) - Fears are fast rising that East Timor will become another Asian quagmire after the United Nations-sponsored ballot in August, in the wake of recent violence against the UN presence in that territory.
UN officials are in East Timor with the aim of providing an environment conducive to the success of a vote, expected around Aug 21, on autonomy or independence from Indonesia.
On Sunday, paramilitaries attacked a convoy of humanitarian workers and UN volunteers returning to the capital Dili after having delivered food and medicine to a refugee camp in the Liquica district, 60 kilometres west.
While unarmed UN civilian police were evacuating, from Liquica to Dili, United Nations Assistance Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) personnel were shot at by paramilitaries from the Besi Merah Putih (Red and White Iron) group who oppose independence.
Last week, a mob attacked the UN office in Maliana, a four- hour drive from Dili, injuring a dozen people including a South African UN official.
UNAMET chief Ian Martin told a press conference in Dili on Monday that pro-Indonesia militia threats against the UN is of ''major concern''.
''There is certainly a pattern of incidents and threats from the militias to UN personnel in a lot of different places and it's a major concern for us,'' Martin said.
''I'm not in a position to say whether it's a concerted strategy and who's concerting it, but it is happening in a number of places,'' he added. Indonesian officials have also been told of the violence and being pressed for action.
What is alarming in the former Portuguese enclave invaded by Indonesia in 1975 and annexed a year later, is that there is little evidence to suggest that the UN has given much thought to what happens after the August ballot.
Already, the vote has been postponed by two weeks because of the escalating violence carried out by East Timorese militias.
''Without a well thought-out transition plan, there is a real danger that East Timor will slide into the full-scale civil war that many have predicted,'' said Alan Dupont, a director at Australian National University's Strategic and Defence Studies Center in Canberra.
''Of particular concern is the absence of a reassuring UN presence after Aug 31. By then, the UN mandate in East Timor will have expired, unless the Security Council decrees otherwise,'' added Dupont.
This raises the question of who will rein in the anti-independence militias in the territory, if as widely predicted, the vote goes against them and they decide to take matters into their own hands.
''If a vote under the present arrangements produced a pro-integration outcome, it would be widely perceived as rigged,'' wrote Dr Andrew McNaughtan, convenor of the Australia East Timor Association, in the 'Sydney Morning Herald'.
''It would resolve nothing and could result in more killings and more refugees as the Indonesian military (TNI) and the militias sought to eliminate their opponents,'' he added.
''On the other hand, a vote for independence would be fraught with the danger of more violent reprisals from the Indonesian military and militias,'' wrote McNaughtan.
He stressed that the United Nations and concerned governments -- including Indonesia, Portugal and Australia -- are obliged to ensure that conditions before, during and after the vote guarantee security whatever the outcome.
Under a May 5 agreement between Indonesia, Portugal and the United Nations, Indonesia is solely responsible for security in the period leading up to the UN-sponsored ballot. But what happens after that is still not clear.
Even under present circumstances, TNI and the Indonesian police (Polri) have been criticised by human rights groups for virtually doing nothing when the militia groups went on their violent rampages against independence supporters.
Last week, an international delegation presented first-hand accounts to UNAMET of alleged rapes by members of pro-Jakarta militias and the TNI.
The 13-member group from the Asia-Pacific Coalition for East Timor, which included two Australian representatives, cited one case in which a 22-year-old woman told of being gang raped by 15 men on May 15.
The woman was allegedly taken from her home in Ermera, in the western part of East Timor, by members of a local militia and five Indonesian soldiers. The account named an Indonesian officer who was alleged to be involved.
But the Darwin-based East Timor International Support Center (ETISC) said in a statement that UNAMET is not in a position to monitor or document on-going human rights abuses -- because the UN body has to abide by its mandate.
''UNAMET is sticking to its mandate (in terms of the May 5 agreement) and consequently focusing on the process of preparing for the August ballot,'' the Centre noted.
''This lack of focus on human rights, on UNAMET's part, means that TNI and Polri are emboldened to commit atrocities in the rural areas with the help of the paramilitary thugs,'' said ETISC.
The support group called for a separate international human rights monitoring mission to be in East Timor, saying ''this will send a clear message to TNI and Polri that they are under international spotlight''.
Jamsheed Marker, the special envoy of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, has ruled out replacing the unarmed UN civilian police in the troubled territory with armed peacekeepers despite calls by East Timor's Nobel Peace Laureate Jose Ramos-Horta.
''At this point in time, I don't think it is necessary,'' Marker told the media in Jakarta after the attack on the UN post in Maliana.
Commenting on Marker's statement, Australians for a Free East Timor's Rob Wesley- Smith said the UN had to realise the on-the-ground realities.
''So far the UN has got it wrong, and they must change tack. An election is not the immediate need, the need is to establish conditions of peace and security,'' he argued. (END/IPS/ap-hd-ip/si/js/99)