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US State Department Briefing On East Timor Crisis

US Department Of State Briefing On East Timor Crisis

US DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Daily Press Briefing
Tuesday, September 14, 1999

Briefer: James B. Foley

SUMMARY: INDONESIA (EAST TIMOR)

6-10 Situation remains very serious. US continues to be concerned about safety of UNAMET personnel. Hundreds of thousands of East Timorese have been displaced. Discussions continue in New York at the UN on a security force to put into East Timor. UN Human Rights High Commissioner Mary Robinson working to establish commission of inquiry. US considering air drops for East Timor as a short-term solution. US citizen Allan Nairn apprehended this morning by Indonesian military. He may be deported tomorrow.

(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED) …..

QUESTION: Jim, is the US satisfied with the pace of the preparations for the peacekeepers to go East Timor? I think a few days ago Jamie said that he wasn't - the US wasn't interested in endless haggling, I think was the term. Can you sort of bring us up-to-date?

MR. FOLEY: Let me just update you on the situation on the ground such as we know it. Obviously, it's extremely difficult to have reliable information because of the continuing dangers and the continuing depredations by militias there and the fact that the UN has virtually - although not completely - evacuated its compound. The ability of the international community at this point to know how dire the situation is is limited.

But our understanding is that the situation in East Timor remains very serious. As I said, concerns over security led UNAMET to reduce its staff to 12 after evacuating approximately 1,000 East Timorese from the UN compound to Australia. We continue to be concerned about the safety and security of UN personnel and independent observers in East Timor. Under these conditions it remains impossible to assess reports of violence and atrocities but separately, of course, we have reports of significant numbers of refugees in and around East Timor. We believe that post-independence violence in East Timor has forced at least 350,000 East Timorese people to flee from their homes and perhaps up to 150,000 of these have moved or been forced into West Timor where many of them have been living in camps with limited facilities.

I say all this to underscore Mr. Rubin's point that you alluded to about the urgency of completing discussions that will lead to the passage of a UN Security Council resolution and then the rapid deployment of a multinational force to East Timor to work in conjunction with Indonesian authorities to restore order and security in East Timor. It is urgent that this work proceed but, on the other hand, I am not aware of any particular obstacles or problems that have arisen.

The fact is that delegations in New York are continuing work on this resolution to authorize the deployment of the multinational force and the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Mr. Alatas, as well as Australian Foreign Minister Downer and Portuguese Foreign Minister Gama are in New York participating in these discussions. We indeed expect the Security Council will soon authorize a force to be led by the Australians and to begin deployments in East Timor.

As we have said previously, we are responding positively to Australian requests for US support to this operation. So I think you have seen the Indonesian Foreign Minister on television explaining that he was not bringing any conditions or preconditions to these discussions and we have not seen signs that the Indonesian Government is in any way backing away from President Habibie's very clear declaration that Indonesia would welcome the assistance of an international multinational force to restore order and security in East Timor. So as far as we know, this is going to proceed well and rapidly and we would expect passage of the resolution soon.

QUESTION: So your assessment is that the way things are going in New York and now the focus of the effort is in New York to get the language right --

MR. FOLEY: Exactly.

QUESTION: -- that that effort is proceeding in the sort of pace that you all are satisfied is an urgent pace?

MR. FOLEY: Well, given the situation on the ground and the fact that, though we can't confirm many of these reports, we don't have reason to doubt that there are massive numbers of refugees, that people are in danger, that many people have been killed, the fact that the UN has withdrawn so many people in the last 24 hours, all indicate the extreme urgency of the situation and therefore the urgency of the work the diplomats are doing in New York. I don't have information to report to you indicating that there are problems or obstacles. We expect these deliberations to be concluded rapidly and that the Australians and others, Asian countries in the region, will be in a position to deploy rapidly, we hope, to East Timor.

QUESTION: Could you go further with "rapidly" and assume do you mean today, do you mean tomorrow?

MR. FOLEY: Based on what I know, I wouldn't expect that a deployment would occur that fast but I would have to see how things are going in New York before I could report to you our assessment on that. When I came out here, those meetings were ongoing but we hope to see passage of the Security Council resolution very quickly. I just wouldn't want to put a specific time on it.

QUESTION: Forgive me if you've answered this before but there has been talk or some talk over the last couple days of some kind of an international tribunal for the crimes that were committed there. Would the US support such an idea?

MR. FOLEY: I think what is important to focus on now is the fact that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, has been working with, meeting with and working with the Indonesian Government to establish an international commission of inquiry to investigate atrocities in East Timor and we welcome her efforts in this regard. We believe those responsible for the kinds of criminal acts that I was describing a minute ago must be held accountable and we believe an international commission of inquiry is an important first step in this direction.

So, in other words, what has to happen is that the facts have to be established first and foremost. We look forward to working with the UN and with the High Commissioner and the government of Indonesia in crafting an appropriate accountability mechanism, so that remains to be determined.

QUESTION: Will the United States send in forensic experts as it did in Kosovo to help any investigation?

MR. FOLEY: We would certainly be prepared to cooperate with the efforts of Mary Robinson and of this commission. I have no specific announcement to make today but I think you can expect that we'll be forthcoming in any needs that they may have as they pursue this inquiry.

QUESTION: So what's - I haven't heard much of anything about West Timor. What is the conditions there as it regards the safety of the refugees, et cetera?

MR. FOLEY: That's a good question. I noted a minute ago that we believe that up to 150,000 displaced people have fled or been forced to West Timor and that they're currently in camps there with limited facilities. The international humanitarian assistance organizations have been granted only limited access to the displaced. Most international organizations are using Indonesian staff to deliver services. We are concerned over reports that militias are operating in and around the camps and so that is an area of real concern to the international community.

As Mr. Rubin indicated yesterday, we are prepared and are considering the possibility of air drops as a way of providing food in the short term but we don't believe that is a long-term solution. We need to have access and security for humanitarian organizations able to deliver the large quantities of food and emergency supplies and services which are now being assembled in the region.

QUESTION: On that issue, are you all considering air drops in West Timor into these camps?

MR. FOLEY: No, I was referring to East Timor. I was referring to East Timor. And the government - President Habibie - has indicated a willingness to facilitate that.

QUESTION: Do you know how soon that may take place?

MR. FOLEY: I can't tell you when that would take place. Right now we haven't made a decision yet. We're right now looking at that option.

QUESTION: So, basically, it's Mr. Habibie's government's responsibility to safeguard the people of West Timor.

MR. FOLEY: Yes, absolutely.

QUESTION: And they are not being safeguarded?

MR. FOLEY: Absolutely. That's undisputed Indonesian territory and the Indonesian authorities have a direct responsibility to assure that not only the safety and security but the well-being, the provisions of food and medical assistance to any refugees who have been forced to flee from East Timor into West Timor.

QUESTION: Do you have any information about an American writer, an activist, by the name of Allan Nairn who was arrested in East Timor?

MR. FOLEY: Yes, I just got that information before coming to the briefing room because apparently he was picked up this morning, Indonesian time, by Indonesian military officials. His name is Allan Nairn, I believe you said. This took place in Dili and the Indonesian military will be flying him tomorrow to Bali where we understand he's going to be deported.

Our consular officers spoke with Mr. Nairn by phone several times during the day - in other words Tuesday in Indonesia. Mr. Nairn reports that he is safe and well. Our understanding is that he is on an immigration exclusion list and may eventually face difficulties with Indonesian immigration authorities.

Our view is that it's important that independent observers -- including independent media from both within and outside Indonesia -- be allowed to witness what is now going on in East Timor for some of the reasons that I outlined in the last few minutes. We believe it's unfortunate that he is being denied his internationally recognized rights to free expression and free association and forced to leave for exercising these rights.

QUESTION: He has been quite critical of US support for the Indonesian military over the years.

MR. FOLEY: But that doesn't mean we don't support his right to exercise his profession, especially in an area where international attention is needed.

QUESTION: But surely the Indonesian Government is within its rights to have him on an immigration exclusion list and if he violated that - correct? Then that's --

MR. FOLEY: We don't question Indonesia's right to decide who can and cannot enter their country. That's a sovereign right.

QUESTION: Okay. So then how can you be --

MR. FOLEY: But it's possible to hold two principles at the same time: number one, they have the right to decide who enters and doesn't enter; but that there is an internationally recognized right to freedom of expression and association and we believe that it would be in Indonesia's interest to allow journalists - both Indonesian and foreign - to provide information to the world about what's going on there.

QUESTION: Right. But surely you're not condoning this guy violating Indonesian law by sneaking in?

MR. FOLEY: I don't have information on the nature of his presence or the manner in which he got there. I'm simply stating that he's been detained; he's going to be deported and we have been of assistance to him through our consular officers and we believe it's unfortunate that his ability to report on the situation there is being denied by the Indonesian authorities.

QUESTION: Except that I just want to make this clear - but you don't dispute the right of the Indonesian Government to have a list which excludes him from --

MR. FOLEY: Again, I don't know the specifics of the case. I've already stated the two principles involved here; namely Indonesia can determine who enters their country. Granted - let me say parenthetically though that East Timor obviously is in a different category because there has been a UN-sponsored consultation and the people have expressed overwhelmingly their choice for independence and we expect that transition to go forward and for East Timor to become independent.

But I am simply stating that in this particular case, though, we believe that Mr. Nairn ought to have been allowed to cover the situation there.

ENDS

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