Subject: IHT: East Timor Leaders Oppose a Malaysian-Led Force

International Herald Tribune Wednesday, November 3, 1999

East Timor Leaders Oppose a Malaysian-Led Force

By Michael Richardson International Herald Tribune

SINGAPORE - The East Timorese leadership has effectively vetoed a proposal by Malaysia, which prides itself as a champion of Third World causes, to take command of the United Nations-sanctioned force that will help prepare the territory for independence within three years, diplomats said Tuesday.

East Timor's foreign minister-designate, Jose Ramos-Horta, who will discuss the issue with the UN secretary-general in New York on Wednesday, said that Malaysia had ''an extremely poor record'' in upholding human rights in East Timor.

He said that Malaysia and its ASEAN partners had been silent about Indonesian human rights abuses in East Timor, which departing soldiers and pro-Jakarta militias have burned, looted and largely destroyed.

Mr. Ramos-Horta warned that if Secretary-General Kofi Annan were to give Malaysia command of UN troops in the former Indonesian-controlled territory it would anger the East Timorese.

''No one would cooperate with the Malaysian commander,'' Mr. Ramos-Horta said. ''There could even be total civil disobedience.''

In New York, the Malaysian representative to the UN, Hasmy Agam, said that Malaysian troops had carried out their duties professionally and in a fair and impartial manner in all 22 UN peacekeeping operations in which they had been involved.

Mr. Ramos-Horta, a 1996 Nobel Peace laureate, also objected to any other member of the Association of South East Asian Nations taking command of the UN peacekeeping force that will enter East Timor early next year, on the grounds that they were also too close to Indonesia to be impartial.

As a result, the diplomats said, Australia, which heads the current multinational force in East Timor, is likely to be asked by Mr. Annan in the next few days to agree to lead the UN force for about 18 months and then hand over command to an Asian country that is regarded as neutral by the East Timorese, probably South Korea.

After talks with Mr. Annan in New York, the Australian foreign minister, Alexander Downer, told Australia's ABC national radio Tuesday that Australia had ''made it perfectly clear all along that if the secretary-general wanted us to take the position, we would be prepared to do it.''

But Mr. Downer said that if Mr. Annan wanted another country to take on the job, Australia would be happy with that decision.

''Our bigger point is that we want the peacekeeping force to be led by somebody who's competent to do it, who the East Timorese will feel comfortable enough with, and by a country which is a significant contributor to the peacekeeping operation,'' Mr. Downer said.

Australia has supplied about 5,000 of the 8,000 troops in the multinational force that entered East Timor on Sept. 20 to restore order after Jakarta requested UN assistance. South Korea has committed 400 troops and Malaysia about 30.

Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad of Malaysia has objected to what he said was the ''rather heavy-handed'' way the Australian-led force operated against suspected militiamen in East Timor.

He said that Malaysia was prepared to make a major troop commitment to the 9,150-strong UN peacekeeping operation and to lead it.

Indonesia has been pressing for an ASEAN country to be given command of the UN peacekeepers and for Asian soldiers to play a larger role as part of its attempt to regain credibility in the region after its brutal crackdown on independence forces in the territory.

''East Timor doesn't want to be part of ASEAN,'' Mr. Ramos-Horta said, adding: ''We want to be part of the South Pacific Forum, so I don't see why the UN or anyone should be insisting that there should be an Asian commander for the peacekeeping operation. Australia is doing a good job, so why change it.''

Mr. Mahathir, who often lectures Western countries for their alleged hypocrisy and double standards, has been a staunch defender of Indonesian behavior in East Timor.

He has asserted on several occasions that the UN-organized referendum, in which nearly 80 percent of East Timorese chose independence on Aug. 30, was unfair because Indonesia had not been given the opportunity to explain to people why the territory, which it invaded in 1975 and annexed, should remain part of Indonesia with wide-ranging autonomy.

Asked in Singapore recently to explain his opposition to East Timor's independence in light of his outspoken support for the right of Kosovo, which has a Muslim majority, to break away from Serbia, Mr. Mahathir said that Indonesia was entitled to integrate the former Portuguese colony.

''The difference between East Timor and Kosovo is that East Timor has been with Indonesia for 25 years, and during that time there were no massacres,'' Mr. Mahathir said. ''The Indonesians were not behaving like the Serbs.

They have not killed thousands and thousands of the East Timorese people; instead, they have poured money into East Timor in order to develop it.''

In addition to the hundreds, possibly thousands, of East Timorese who reportedly died in the recent violence by the militias, nearly 200,000 people have died as a result of the Indonesian invasion, mainly from famine, hunger and lack of medical care, independence leaders in East Timor say.

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