|=Subject: IPS: UN Cautious but Confident on Polls
Date: Sat, 08 May 1999 09:35:58 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Received from Joyo Indonesian News:
UN Cautious but Confident on Polls
By Farhan Haq UNITED NATIONS, May 7 (IPS) - UN officials concede that violence in East Timor is so strong it could prevent any fair vote on the territory's status if it were held today but they also believe that it will not last.
Under agreements signed this week, East Timor's 840,000 people are to be given a chance to choose between autonomous status within Indonesia - which invaded in 1975 - or independence.
Many UN officials acknowledge privately, however, that the current level of threats and killings in East Timor will deter voters from giving an honest answer.
All this may change soon.
After the Indonesian and Portuguese governments signed the agreements on the autonomy plan for East Timor and a proposed ballot in August, in which Timorese worldwide can vote on the Indonesian-occupied territory's status, UN diplomats immediately began to plan for a free and fair vote.
Portugal, East Timor's former colonial power, has pledged 10 million dollars for a UN trust fund for the Timor ballot, roughly a third of the estimated cost of the poll. Australia and Japan pledged to send civilian police to the Pacific island state, while Brazil reportedly also offered to send officers.
That burst of support is the best hope the Timorese have that the vote will not be derailed by the wave of violence blamed on pro-Indonesia paramilitaries in recent weeks, UN officials contend.
One senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the presence of police from many countries with close ties to Indonesia - possibly including the United States, its main weapons supplier - would ensure that Jakarta would try to halt any violence.
Also, Indonesian President Bacharuddin Habibie was sincere in his efforts to hold a free and fair ballot in East Timor, even if some members of the Indonesian military were not, the official said.
Under the agreements, the Indonesian military is responsible with ensuring security for the Aug. 8 ballot, although it will be assisted by ''a number of civilian police officers'' provided by the United Nations.
Those officers are likely to be limited in number, with estimates varying from some 600 to 900 UN staff overall. Annan said that the officers would not be armed, although some officials expect they may be allowed by Jakarta to carry small sidearms for self-defense.
Their duties, according to the agreements, are ''to act as advisers to the Indonesian police'' and ''to supervise the escort of ballot papers and boxes to and from polling sites''.
But, as Jose Ramos Horta - the Timorese pro-independence leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate - put it: '' Its is like asking Saddam Hussein to ensure the safety of the Kurds''.
Charles Scheiner, UN representative of the International Federation for East Timor, argued that, because ''the military is a party to the conflict'', Jakarta should not be trusted as a neutral force involved in disarming combatants and maintaining the peace before any vote.
He added that the UN police proposed for East Timor should be ''ten or 20 times as many'' as the envisioned body of several hundred officers.
Yet the United Nations in some ways is trapped by the desire of all sides - notably Jakarta itself - to hold the vote on Timor's status as quickly as possible.
With Indonesia unwilling to allow in peacekeeping forces, and most nations unlikely to provide substantial numbers of troops quickly, Annan has had to place his trust in the Habibie government's cooperation.
That cooperation, the senior UN official said, can be trusted; Habibie, as Ramos Horta also admitted, sincerely wants to resolve the Timor question within the next few months, particularly with Indonesian elections slated for June.
Recent massacres in the Timorese capital, Dili, and the towns of Suai and Liquica have led human rights activists to worry that some Indonesian army leaders are arming Timorese militias to harass the pro-independence forces.
If they continued to do that when the police monitors arrived, they would be flouting some of the countries on whom Jakarta depended, some UN officials observed.
Japan and Australia - the two countries which have already committed police - are Indonesia's major Asian trading partners.
Also being considered for the UN team are the Philippines, Britain, Germany - where Habibie was educated and still maintains close ties - and the United States.
In addition, with the expected endorsement of the UN Security Council Friday, the world body was now squarely behind the poll.
Just as significantly, argued Constancio Pinto, UN representative of the pro-independence National Council of Timorese Resistance, Indonesia for the first time has recognised that the Timorese have a right to determine their status, and has done it in a legally-binding document.
Now, whatever violence occurred, Pinto said, ''they no longer can call it an internal matter of Indonesia.''