Subject: SMH: An open invitation to a bloodbath
Date: Sat, 07 Aug 1999 10:03:22 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Received from Joyo Indonesian News:

Sydney Morning Herald Saturday, August 7, 1999


An open invitation to a bloodbath

By HAMISH MCDONALD, Foreign Editor

The most worrying signal about what happens in East Timor after the vote is that no-one, it seems, has yet got any senior Indonesian official to discuss the possibility of a vote rejecting Jakarta's offer of autonomy and favouring independence.

In terms of stated government policy, President B.J. Habibie would accept such an outcome and recommend East Timor's separation to the new People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) convening in November. After some jawboning, the likely new president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, has said the same.

But in terms of practical detail, it's an eventuality Indonesia's diplomats and military officials simply refuse to talk about. Even at this late stage, the United Nations is still trying to engage them on the subject.

As recently as late June, Indonesia's Foreign Minister, Ali Alatas, told the Herald his Government was doing no contingency planning for a new independent nation on its eastern border.

But if Jakarta is unreadable, the UN's plans are open to its member nations. As Mark Riley's report makes clear, the UN intends to cut and run if serious violence breaks out in the critical "Phase II" between the August30 vote and the MPR session.

Even then, it may take another four months for the UN cavalry to arrive. Shades of Rwanda and Kosovo. By then, the work of the militias in cleaning out the independence leaders and pillaging Timor's infrastructure could be complete. A wasteland called peace for 10,000 soldiers to police.

Can the Indonesian military (TNI), which clearly set up the militias, be trusted to restrain them, and at the same time quietly carry out its own withdrawal from a territory that it spent 25 years and thousands of lives trying to subjugate?

Alexander Downer was "more optimistic than he's ever been" this week about a peaceful outcome in East Timor, following Megawati's statement. The US State Department thinks the TNI and its chief, General Wiranto, can be held to honour the UN process and heed Indonesia's international reputation.

It may be - from its truculent accusations about the UN mission, the Australian Government, international media, aid agencies being "biased" towards the independence cause - that Indonesia's military-bureaucratic establishment is inwardly prepared for a pro-independence vote.

Equally, it could be preparing for an "unfair" call if the vote is adverse for Indonesia - especially if the margin is not wide.

Indonesia's ability to deny the reality in East Timor is legendary - from the covert war of late 1975, to the invasion by "volunteers" in December that year, to the horrendous famine of the late 1970s, to the Santa Cruz massacre in 1991, to the notion that this year's violence has been "inter-factional".

Its military machine in the territory is still run by officers steeped in this bloodshed and deception all of their careers.

There is a dangerous gap in the UN's plans. The UN's many failures, and NATO's hesitancy in backing the Rambouillet talks on Kosovo with preparations for intervention, show how weakness can be abused.

Indonesia's civilian politicians, and its voters yearning for democracy and a civil society, may be ready to shake hands and leave East Timor to its own ways. But it's taking far too much on trust to expect the military-bureaucratic machine to care what the Timorese or the outside world thinks.

What should be done?

By all means, keep up the moral pressure on Jakarta, and keep up the threats that World Bank and International Monetary Fund finance, military equipment and so on might be hard to justify if it allows a bloodbath in Timor.

But that is not sufficient. The UN may pull back to a more secure compound, but it must not withdraw from East Timor in Phase II, whatever the threat. Nor should Australia withdraw the only diplomatic mission in Dili.

If the UN cannot rely on the 15,000-strong Indonesian garrison for security even in Dili, there must be plans for an insertion force to protect UN staff, other international workers, and any threatened Timorese leaders.

For John Howard, this worst-case scenario would be a dreadful moment of destiny. Washington and other key allies have made it plain this crisis is Canberra's baby. Any intervention would have to be launched from Darwin, using mostly Australian forces.

Australia says it will continue to recognise Indonesian sovereignty in East Timor until the MPR severs it. We would have to live with the consequences of invading that sovereignty. But at the very least, the Prime Minister should put some strategic ambiguity into that pledge. Namely: in the contingency of the Timorese having voted for independence, and Indonesia's security forces allowing the losers to vent their rage in widespread violence, Jakarta would be seen to have relinquished control and responsibility for East Timor.

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