Subject: WP editorial: Letting Go in East Timor
Date: Sat, 27 Mar 1999 09:30:16 -0500
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Received from Joyo:

Washington Post Saturday, March 27, 1999

Editorial: Letting Go in East Timor

DECOLONIZATION, a demanding political passage under the best of circumstances, is especially tricky when the decolonizing power is itself a former colony. This is the situation in East Timor, the once-Portuguese colony whose bloody annexation by the former Dutch colony of Indonesia in 1975 was never recognized by the United Nations. Only now does Indonesia, under the new leadership of President B. A. Habibie, seem ready to let go.

At first, the Habibie regime hesitated both to include independence among the options being offered to the East Timorese and to allow the Timorese to make their choice in unrestrictive terms. But the Indonesians have shifted. The way things look now, the people on the island and their overseas compatriots will get to vote for or against permanent autonomy, with the understanding that the alternative to autonomy is movement toward independence. The United Nations is helping the parties to bring Timorese voices into the planning and to sharpen the ballot language. It is examining the essential and ticklish question of providing an armed U.N. presence to oversee the voting.

Some 200,000 Timorese deaths, from guerrilla warfare and from famine, are commonly attributed to Indonesia's nearly three decades of colonial rule. That's about one out of five in the population -- a horrendous toll. It explains why most Timorese appear eager to see the Indonesian army go home and why some fear instability and revenge-seeking. Some ambivalence is evident among the Timorese: It translates into a measure of favor for a phased autonomy.

But there appears scant doubt that most Timorese want to detach their fate promptly and permanently from their erstwhile colonial masters. It is late in the century for colonization to be running its course. East Timor has earned what its people ask for it.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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