|Subject: AWSJ: U.N. Bars Youth Groups As Observers
Date: Sun, 22 Aug 1999 19:09:00 EDT
Asian Wall Street Journal August 22, 1999
AWSJ: U.N. Bars Youth Groups As Observers in East Timor
Jeremy Wagstaff Staff Reporter
DILI, East Timor - The United Nations mission in East Timor has refused applications by 24 Indonesian government-linked youth groups to send observers to this month's referendum on the future of East Timor, in a move likely to deepen a rift between the U.N. team and Jakarta.
The U.N. East Timor mission, UNAMET, is concerned that the youth groups - some of them regarded by many Indonesians as either creations of the government or linked to the criminal underworld - will disrupt the Aug. 30 ballot. The groups deny links to organized crime.
"Their intentions in coming to East Timor at this time are at best unclear and, in the light of their political track record, it seems likely that their presence could prove disruptive," a U.N. official said.
Functional Proxies' for Jakarta
UNAMET's chief electoral officer, Jeff Fischer, refused the request Saturday in a meeting with the head of the Indonesian delegation, Djamaris Suleman, saying that the groups were "functional proxies" for Indonesia. An appeal to the U.N. electoral commission by Mr. Suleman was turned down later the same day.
The move comes in the final week of campaigning by East Timorese for and against an offer of greater autonomy under the territory's existing ruler, Indonesia. If voters reject the offer, East Timor would effectively be declaring independence. Despite noisy and sometimes aggressive cam paigning by pro-Indonesian supporters, many observers expect East Timorese to opt for an end to Jakarta's 24-year old rule.
Fears that the groups aren't merely independent observers may have some justification. Members of the youth groups themselves say officials of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, which oversees all official youth social organizations, encouraged them to send observers.
"The main purpose of the team is to monitor the process and to give support to those people who are pro-autonomy," said Hoedaifah, the cultural chief of one group, Pemuda Pancasila, or Pancasila Youth. An assistant to the minister of youth and sports confirmed that ministry officials planned to accompany the youths.
Links Denied Officially
Indonesia denied any links to the move. "They are paying for themselves and are coming here on their initiative," said Dino Djalal, spokesman for the Indonesian delegation overseeing the referendum.
It wasn't clear whether the youths were East Timorese and how many were already in East Timor. Most of them are likely to arrive on a cruise ship due to dock in Dili on Tuesday, said Robby Rawis, chief of the local chapter of another of the groups, Pemuda Panca Marga, or the youth wing of army veterans. He said some 38 groups would send as many as 10 representatives each. Other people aware of the plan said the observers would number no more than 100.
It wouldn't be the first time such groups have been used by the Indonesian government as an unofficial tool. Several of the groups that have applied to send observers have been accused by local and international human-rights groups of intimidating government opponents, including political parties, nongovernment groups and the media. Since the fall of President Suharto in May 1998, however, most such groups have either lain dormant or sought more respectable roles. Some Pemuda Pancasila leaders, for example, abandoned their longstanding support for the former ruling Golkar party at national elections held in June.
The overt presence of such groups would add to an already combustible mix. Indonesian officials and pro-autonomy leaders accuse UNAMET of favoring the pro-independence movement. In the past few days, a UNAMET vehicle was torched and another stoned, and a U.N. building attacked. U.N. officials accuse Jakarta of organizing, arming or encouraging pro-Indonesian militias and have twice delayed the ballot because of security concerns.
Indonesian officials said the presence of Indonesian observers would help balance out what they said was a bias in favor of pro-independence observers allowed to register. "There's a perception that there are too many foreign observers," Mr. Djalal said. "This is a free game."
The rejection of accreditation is the first since UNAMET began work several months ago. The youths would be barred from polling sites, from the official counting and won't be allowed to file official procedural complaints.
Special correspondent Rin Hindryati in Jakarta contributed to this article.