Subject: SMH: How the UN plans to abandon a people
Date: Sat, 07 Aug 1999 10:03:07 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Received from Joyo Indonesian News:

Sydney Morning Herald Saturday, August 7, 1999

How the UN plans to abandon a people

By MARK RILEY, Herald Correspondent in New York

The United Nations plans to withdraw completely from East Timor if the territory threatens to dissolve into civil war after this month's autonomy ballot.

This would leave the Indonesian Army in control of the region, irrespective of whether the people vote for independence or to become an autonomous state within Indonesia.

As well, confidential plans are being developed for a UN peacekeeping mission of up to 10,000 troops - including as many as 3,500 Australians - but it would not enter the region until at least four months after the ballot, and possibly much later.

The UN has now rejected all suggestions that an international military force be sent into East Timor in the short term to avoid the threat of widespread violence.

Instead, if war did threaten to break out, all UN personnel - including military advisers and police - would be immediately pulled out for their own safety.

Indonesia would have full responsibility for security, despite accusations from as high up as the UN Secretary-General, Mr Kofi Annan, that its army has supported murderous raids by anti-independence militia in the lead-up to the August 30 ballot.

The only way for international troops to go into the territory would be as part of a coalition - similar to the NATO forces in Kosovo - but this would be unlikely to get the necessary backing from the UN Security Council.

UN officials said in interviews this week that they believed the chances of Australia mounting a unilateral military mission in such circumstances were "remote at best".

Australia remains the only major Western country that recognises Indonesian sovereignty in East Timor, meaning that the launching of such an independent mission would take a decision by the Prime Minister to effectively invade Indonesia.

At the same time, separate plans are being discussed to send in the 10,000 international troops early next year as part of what is being called a "Phase III peacekeeping mission".

But those troops would be dispatched only if Mr Annan was satisfied that there was a peace to keep.

"In other words, if it turnsinto civil war in the short term, it will be up to the Indonesians to sort out the mess," one senior UN official said.

"There seems to be this persistent perception that the UN can simply send in the cavalry if widespread fighting breaks out. That is simply not true and the people who think that do not know how the UN operates."

Mr José Ramos Horta, the Nobel Prize-winning vice-president of the National Council of Timorese Resistance, spoke to advisers in Mr Annan's office yesterday about security.

He said later in an interview with the Herald that he was now more confident of a peaceful ballot but believed the international community should still have a plan to intervene if widespread fighting broke out.

"The worst-case scenario - which is real - is that there is violence, that the violence is targeted at the UN, that they extract themselves and there is a catastrophic bloodbath in East Timor," Mr Ramos-Horta said.

"They - not only the UN but the countries that really matter, like Australia - must create the conditions to ensure this does not happen.

"If it does, it will be disastrous for UN credibility and for the credibility of Australia. It would be disastrous for John Howard and for [Foreign Minister] Alexander Downer."

Mr Downer has discussed security with the United States Assistant Secretary of State, Mr Stanley Roth, in recent weeks.

Mr Roth said yesterday that he would not comment on sensitive matters that were still being discussed but a spokesman for him said the US policy was aimed at preventing the worst outcome.

"Our government is reluctant to go into detail about how we might respond in a hypothetical situation," he said. "Our aim is to make it clear to Indonesia that they have a responsibility to discuss every possible way to ensure the situation does not deteriorate to that degree and that the vote can be held in a peaceful and fair way."

The greatest stumbling block to an international military mission is that the UN charter does not provide for enforcement operations, only peacekeeping ones.

Any proposal to send in an independent coalition of forces would need the support of the five permanent members of the Security Council - the US, Britain, France, Russia and China.

UN officials do not believe Russia or China would approve of such a mission, on the basis that it would impugn Indonesian sovereignty.

East Timorese observers and pro-independence groups have warned of possible widespread reprisals by pro-Jakarta militias if the vote is for independence.

Political advisers at the UN believe that the risk of such reprisals is being overstated, suggesting that diplomatic pressure would be put on Indonesia to protect stability.

It is expected that between 12,000 and 15,000 Indonesian soldiers will be in the territory.

But this will give cold comfort to the pro-independence groups, who have long accused the military of arming the militias responsible for recent massacres.

UN officials said this week that the UN charter and the April 5 agreement between Indonesia and the former colonial ruler Portugal on the process for self-determination prevented the UN from providing any significant military presence in the short term.

Under the agreement, Indonesia would retain control of East Timor in the period between the ballot and endorsement of the outcome by the new Indonesian Parliament. This period, known as Phase II, will be at least three months and possibly as long as six months.

The greater concern is that the territory could dissolve into civil war in that period if the vote is for independence and the militias try to overturn the result with force.

If independence is supported, the UN would assume notional control of the territory from the moment Jakarta accepts the vote and relinquishes all claims to sovereignty.

But the UN may not attempt to mount a new administration in East Timor for some time, until convinced it is safe to do so.

"Our best strategy in Phase II is to keep impressing upon the Indonesians that they not simply walk away from the place and let it lapse into war," one official said.

"Countries like Australia and the US would have to play a leading role in maintaining the diplomatic pressure on Indonesia to hold its army firm and ensure it dealt with any violence even-handedly."

The UN's longer-term peacekeeping plan for Phase III of the self-determination process is still being developed, but the present proposal is for a strong military presence to remain in the territory for up to four years.

During this time, the UN would need to build a new administration in East Timor from the ground up.

It would take over all basic government services from Indonesia including education, health, police and justice, transport, power and water supplies.

That process is expected to be long and expensive, and would require the UN to find ways of filling the big funding gaps as Indonesia withdrew its heavy subsidies on electricity and water and support of other services.

During that time, the UN would gradually build up its military presence, mainly at first with infantry to secure outlying trouble spots.

Once the military command was satisfied peace was holding, it would scale back the original force from about 10,000 soldiers to about 6,000.

A heavier emphasis would then be put on engineering and communications corps, which would help the new East Timorese government build roads and bridges and establish a better telecommunications system.

Mr Ramos-Horta said that he believed the chances of a violence-free ballot on August 30 had improved in recent weeks, due largely to the actions of Australia diplomatically and as a force in the UN mission (UNAMET).

"On the other hand, the international community must now address the security situation in advance - taking preventative action in contingency planning in order to intervene if necessary," he said.

"If the hardliners in Indonesia realise that the international community is serious about the threat of possible armed intervention in the case that things get out of hand, then they will think twice.

"The current discussions between Australia, New Zealand and the United States in the UN and in Washington about a possible military force can also function as preventative diplomacy in this regard."

Mr Ramos-Horta said the political climate in East Timor had been improved by Mrs Megawati Sukarnoputri's recent public commitment to accept the outcome of the ballot, even if it meant independence.

UN political advisers agreed that her position appeared to leave rogue elements of the anti-independence movement without a political power base.

The advisers are working on two possible political constructions for Indonesia following the recent national elections.

The first is that Mrs Sukarnoputri gathers the necessary coalition of support to become president, but only holds that position as a head of state, like a governor-general.

They believe that under this scenario, a vice-president would be elected to be the effective head of the executive government, taking the role of a prime minister. The second possibility is that President Habibie holds on to power, but with a new vice-president.

It is believed that the recent reshuffle at the upper end of the Indonesian military has been done to ease a passage out for the military commander, General Wiranto, so he can become a candidate for the vice-presidency.

The reorganisation has been seen in the UN as a way of fortifying General Wiranto's influence in the military in a way that would be crucial to his political ascendancy.

On the question of moving troops into East Timor, military advisers at the UN caution that mobilising such a large force cannot be done quickly or without widespread political support.

Physically transporting equipment, jeeps and machinery into East Timor presents its own problems in the absence of a serviceable major port. Only the US military has the capability to move that amount of heavy machinery by air, with its C5 Galaxy aircraft.

The UN has also rejected suggestions that it should now arm its police and military personnel in the territory, believing that recent attacks, including one on a UN convoy in Liquicia, could have been much worse if soldiers had returned fire.

UN officials said that the question of security after the ballot was difficult because Indonesia did not accept the growing belief that the vote would be for independence and was not prepared to make any agreements based on that belief.

The next important step in the process happens in Jakarta next week when meetings will be held to discuss an Australian-backed proposal to double the number of international police and soldiers in East Timor at the time of the ballot.

Australia has argued that this is needed to allow the UNAMET mission to complete its jobs of advising the East Timorese police on security and overseeing the transfer of ballot boxes on polling day and during the counting.

UNAMET has only 50 military advisers at present. Australia argues that this is insufficient to properly monitor the large Indonesian Army contingent and that the number should be increased to 300 or 350.

The proposal also suggests an increase in the UN police numbers from 275 to between 575 and 600.

The UN is confident of reaching crucial agreements with the Indonesians on the increases, following in-principle approvals from key members of the Jakarta administration that resulted from the recent visit by Mr Downer.

The plan is for UN and Indonesian military and police officials to meet next Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by senior officials' meetings on Thursday and Friday.

Back to August Menu
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu