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Inside APEC Series - East Timor Talks Must Be Held

by Selwyn Manning

APEC 99 will almost certainly become a backdrop to bilateral meetings between heads of governments who meet to discuss issues pressing for an international accord - we are talking of course about the chaos and impending civil war facing East Timor.

The economic issues discussed at APEC Auckland will pale compared to the questions which press upon Indonesia President Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie to explain his role and that of his country, in the killings and chaos on the streets of East Timor.

Scoop’s Alastair Thompson has reported that Habibie and the Indonesian Government alone can stop the civil unrest and open warfare between militia. The statement still rings true, however reports from inside Dili confirm the Indonesian army and police are proving reluctant to quell the riotous assembly which now has East Timor’s capital city in its grasp.

Corso this afternoon has called on US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, to halt all military assistance to Indonesia.

The United States is a huge donor of military aid to Indonesia, and they along with New Zealand and Australia have always been happy to train and resource the same Indonesian military that is responsible for the formation of the paramilitary militias, currently rampaging through the countryside and towns of East Timor.

So there is much blood on the hands of many. And talks here in Auckland would surely be a perfect opportunity for wrong to be put right.

Parliament today heard Foreign Affairs Minister Don McKinnon state that East Timor will not be placed on APEC’s agenda. That may be so, but clearly East Timor will once and for all provide the challenge to those countries surrounding Indonesia - those of the Asia Pacific region - to assert a decisive hand in the quelling of violence and the pursuit of achievable peace. No better opportunity will present itself for a diplomatic accord to be reached for the people of East Timor, for the United Nations, and for those leaders of Asia/Pacific, than at APEC in Auckland.

There are signals from Indonesia that it will welcome a United Nations peacekeeping force in East Timor. But much of the detail, should that continue to be Indonesia’s line, will need to be ironed out in Auckland.

Indeed the USA’s Madeleine Albright will be in Auckland mid next week. And as we all know so will the host of world leaders.

The call from Canada’s Foreign Minister for talks at APEC, geared for a peaceful resolution to the crisis, are clearly sound. As Labour leader Helen Clark said today: “The APEC leaders' meeting is timely. There will be concern right around the Asia Pacific region about the deteriorating security in East Timor.”

It would also be timely for the Prime Minister, Jenny Shipley, to assert her leadership of this year’s APEC and to progress a meeting of all heads of governments. Charged with a resolution to the chaos in East Timor, the meeting would reflect not only a need, but also the wishes of reasonably minded people throughout the Asia Pacific region. Such a move by Mrs Shipley would display the actions of a true stateswoman and would reflect the paths taken of those who held the mantle before her.

But if APEC bogs itself down merely preaching the old new-right rhetoric to the converted, then it is the lame duck that critics say it is. If APEC is to have legs, then it surely will need to mature and grasp this opportunity for the sake of humanity and broaden from its purist obsession with trade and tariffs.

If the money boffins release the power APEC espouses to have, to allow the collective to be used for the betterment of a peoples, then that would be a reform worth pursuing.

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