Subject: AW Editorial: Twisted Referendum
Date: Sat, 19 Jun 1999 14:27:59 +0000
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Received from Joyo Indonesian News:

ASIAWEEK June 18, 1999


INDONESIA'S NATIONAL ELECTIONS ON June 7 gave people reason to believe the best about the country. That democracy could prevail, that ethnic tensions could diminish, that violence could be tamed. But the troubles in East Timor province challenge that notion. As the East Timorese prepare to choose between autonomy or independence from Indonesia, military-permitted political violence threatens to make a mockery of the process. If the international community does not demand an end to the intimidation and killing of independence supporters, the referendum is likely to end up a bloody disaster as well.

The United Nations, which is organizing the Aug. 8 ballot, recently issued a highly critical statement on security in East Timor. "Words by the Indonesian government are not enough," it said. "Determined action must be taken by appropriate security authorities to curtail the armed militias, whose members roam the streets of Dili [the capital] and other towns at will, shooting citizens and burning homes." But words alone from the world body are not enough either.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has warned that his final decision on whether the vote can proceed will depend on Indonesia's efforts to quell the violence in East Timor. (Registration of the 400,000 eligible voters is supposed to begin June 13.) Indonesian military chief Gen. Wiranto says the army is not backing the pro-Jakarta militias and refuses to consider the possibility that local officers may be doing so anyway. Still, that does not explain why the military has not been able to disarm the militias. The government says that pro-independence groups should also be blamed for the disorder. Feisal Tanjung, the coordinating minister for security and political affairs, was quoted as telling a cabinet meeting on June 2: "It is not fair if the [U.N.] only forces one side to disarm."

Meanwhile, the world body has persuaded Jakarta to allow unarmed foreign military personnel to observe the activities of Indonesian soldiers. "They will be placed within our units to monitor whether what the military or police are doing is correct and proportional in carrying out their mission," said Wiranto. The liaison team will consist of 45 officers from nations that do not have an official stand on East Timor. That is better than nothing, but 45 unarmed foreigners are unlikely to have much impact.

Jakarta insists that it alone should be responsible for maintaining security in East Timor before the vote. So it would be reasonable for the U.N. to refuse to participate - or spend any money - until the military disarms the militias. But if the army is unable or unwilling to do so, the world body should be ready to step in with peacekeeping forces. Such an operation will have its problems. At this point, though, the U.N. is sure to be more successful with peacekeepers than without them.

If a peacekeeping force seems untenable, consider the alternative: a U.N.-sanctioned vote marred by violence and intimidation, a loss of credibility that fuels divisiveness, and civil war. It is not too far-fetched to imagine East Timor as the next Somalia - a forlorn, divided land. That would be a tragedy. And it would give people reason to think the worst of Indonesia and of the international community too.

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