Subject: ST: The UN must act now for East Timor's sake (Op-ed)
Date: Sat, 27 Mar 1999 09:26:12 -0500
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Received from Joyo:

Straits Times March 26, 1999 [lead article on op-ed page]

*The UN must act now for East Timor's sake


WITH the collapse of the peace talks between proindependence groups and those who favour integration with Indonesia, there is now a real possibility that East Timor could descend into chaos and civil war unless the United Nations acts quickly.

The inability of the East Timorese to resolve their differences does not augur well for the vote on independence, scheduled for later this year, or the prospect of a peaceful transfer of power should the East Timorese opt for full independence as expected.

The immediate problem is that the integrationists are not prepared to give up their arms while pro-independence leaders are now saying that no vote can take place until they do. More worrying, however, is that the failure of the talks highlights the low level of trust between the two sides and suggests that, left to their own devices, the East Timorese have neither the will nor the ability to settle their deep differences.

It is vital, therefore, that the UN steps in before a dangerous vacuum develops. Sending a six-man team to prepare for the elections is no longer sufficient.

Nor can the international community afford to wait for the warring parties to reach an agreement. This might have made sense when the integrationists and pro-independence groups were moving towards an accommodation. It no longer does. What is needed now is the early deployment of a multinational force under UN auspices.

The initial aims of this force should be to prevent, or at least minimise, the possibility of conflict and to ensure that the elections are conducted free from the threat of violence and intimidation. Only a substantial UN force has any hope of attaining these goals. Even with a preventive deployment, it is unlikely that the elections will be trouble-free.

The Indonesian Armed Forces have an important role to play in persuading the pro-Indonesian militias to disarm before Abri withdraws. This will not be easy. But Abri must disabuse the integrationists of any notion that Indonesia may one day seek to return to East Timor.

A UN preventive deployment force tasked with maintaining the security of all East Timorese during an agreed transition period should comprise professional armed forces drawn from the region as well as extra-regional states with proven experience in UN operations.

Cambodia demonstrated that a military force is critical to ensuring that UN- sponsored elections are free and fair. A strong military element will also be needed to supervise the disarmament and demobilisation of all sides and oversee the withdrawal of Indonesian forces.

The UN commitment to East Timor must extend beyond the period leading up to an election. If the East Timorese vote for independence, the United Nations Security Council should authorise the establishment of an administering authority that would have responsibility for all activities in East Timor during a three- to five-year transition period.

There is clear scope for the Asean Regional Forum (ARF) to be involved here, either as a contact group for the Secretary-General or as the administering authority itself. A Special Representative of the Secretary-General with high- level political and administrative credentials should oversee the transition to independence aided by an advisory committee consisting of representatives from all the major East Timorese parties.

It is absolutely essential that Indonesia and Australia play key leadership roles in supporting the preventive deployment force. Indonesia has compelling moral and political obligations to the people it has ruled for 25 years.

Pro-Indonesian integrationists will expect some tangible form of reassurance that Indonesia will not wash its hands off East Timor after the vote on independence.

A clear timetable for Abri's withdrawal and replacement by a UN force must be decided as early as possible. The United States could play a useful role in helping to convince both Indonesia and Portugal -- a fellow Nato member -- to support such a deployment.

Australia, for its part, has major strategic, foreign policy and humanitarian interests at stake in East Timor and must be prepared to form the bulk of the preventive deployment force.

Finally, East Timor's prospective South-east Asian neighbours need to do more. So far, they have been largely silent on the unfolding drama to their south. An independent East Timor will at some stage seek membership of regional forums like Asean and the ARF as well as economic aid and investment.

But the world is still waiting to hear what Asean's response will be to the emergence of the first new state in the region since Singapore's less than amicable separation from Malaysia in 1965 and Brunei's accession to full independence in 1984.

[Anthony Bergin is the director of the Australian Defence Studies Centre, Australian Defence Force Academy, while Alan Dupont is the director of the Asia-Pacific Security Programme at the Australian National University's Strategic and Defence Studies Centre. They contributed this article to The Straits Times.]

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