=Subject: WP: Editorial - East Timor's Due
Date: Sat, 08 May 1999 09:37:07 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <fbp@igc.apc.org>

Received from Joyo Indonesian News:

Washington Post Saturday, May 8, 1999


East Timor's Due

AGREEMENT HAS been reached and celebrated at the United Nations to offer autonomy under Indonesian sovereignty to East Timor, the territory that Indonesia grabbed from Portugal just as Portugal was giving up its three-century colony in 1975. But if the 800,000 Timorese reject the autonomy offer in a U.N.-sponsored vote scheduled for August, then Indonesia has pledged to release the territory instead to independence. It sounds as if East Timor, which has suffered greatly under Indonesian rule, is finally to get the self-determination it deserves.

But wait. Indonesia's newly found formal solicitude for the will of the people of East Timor may not be all that it is cracked up to be. The Indonesian military establishment says it supports the new agreement, but it also seems to maintain continuing links with local paramilitaries that favor not independence from Jakarta but permanent integration with it. The Indonesian government, even as it cites its own readiness to let East Timor go, insists that a "silent majority" of its population prefers staying a part of Indonesia. The intimidation being widely practiced in the island is conducted mostly, it says, by the pro-independence camp.

Reports from different sources over a period of time do not confirm the official Indonesian view; they rebut it, in fact. Nonetheless, there is no reason why anyone has to rely exclusively on what one side or the other has to say about this question. The coming vote, or "consultation," is the right process by which the people's choice will become incontestably known. It will, that is, as long as the voting is conducted fairly and transparently and in the presence of qualified international observers with the reach to see what is going on.

There is some anxiety, in official Indonesian circles and elsewhere, that the release of once-Portuguese East Timor to independence will encourage secession movements in restive parts of the otherwise formerly Dutch Indonesian archipelago. Indonesia does face deep problems of governance, not to speak of economics. But they do not justify the denial of self-determination to a much-abused territory.

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