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UN Provides Bait For East Timor Disaster

Scoop News Analysis

It is increasingly apparent that the independence referendum in East Timor was a mistake.

A mistake because the security promised to the East Timorese did not, and with the benefit of hindsight, was never likely to be provided.

Events over the past week have now brought the true situation in East Timor into the open, and in the process the innocence and naiveté of the wider international community has been harshly exposed.

On Monday the ballot went relatively smoothly, the world applauded and began a sigh of relief. But before the breath was half way out the illusion of calm was shattered again as the East Timorese anti-independence militia went back on the offensive.

The fact that the violence against the independence movement in East Timor was so sporadic has confused many observers.

Why could a pro-independence rally pass on the Wednesday before the referendum so peacefully and then violence erupt so quickly on the Friday?

Why when the referendum itself passed relatively without incident has the situation deteriorated so quickly to the extent that BBC cameramen are being beaten in the street and the UN is under siege as Indonesian police and soldiers stand idly by?

The answer to this riddle is tragically obvious.

The militia in East Timor are clearly under the control of Indonesian security interests. The violence is clearly able to be turned on and off, as if at will. A quick look at the history of Indonesia shows that organised mob violence has always been a key part of the Indonesian security apparatuses modus operandi.

But why violence one day and peace the next?

This is more confusing but again a plausible explanation is relatively obvious. Evidence would suggest that this is due to a power struggle among the Indonesian leadership. Some reports today out of Jakarta suggested that Indonesian army chief General Wiranto had been arguing the case for peace in East Timor on Monday, unsuccessfully.

If true then it would appear that General Wiranto has lost his bid to encourage a measured response in East Timor. This is hardly surprising.

It is a matter of public record that the leader of the largest opposition party, and possible future president, Megawati Sukarnoputri is opposed to the secession of East Timor. Undoubtedly a large element in the Indonesian armed forces is also opposed to the referendum. For his part President B.J. Habibe's agreement to the referendum in the first place always seemed half-hearted.

Which brings us to the question of why the announcement of the referendum result has been brought forward to tomorrow? The announcement was originally expected on Tuesday next week.

The answer to this question, in the light of the analysis above, is possibly even more alarming.

Firstly the result to be announced in coming hours cannot be in doubt. The huge turnout in the plebiscite means the majority in favour of independence is almost certainly overwhelming.

If Indonesian authorities have decided that peace will not be allowed to take root in East Timor then it makes sense - in a fairly sick sense - not to allow any time for cooler minds to regroup and put the pressure back on those wavering elements in the Indonesian leadership for a peaceful resolution.

So what happens next?

Circumstances suggest East Timor is now headed for a rapid decline into civil war, followed most probably - given the arrival of still more Indonesian troops in East Timor - by a crack down by the Indonesian military.

So is there any hope that a UN peace-keeping force might be invited in?

The short answer is no. If those in control of Indonesian East Timor policy - and just who that is remains a mystery - had any inclination to allow a foreign force in East Timor they would not have gone to so much trouble to allow the militias to chase away foreign journalists and intimidate the UN.

In any event the scale of the force required - there are 50,000 militia members and around 20,000 Indonesian troops and police in East Timor at present - is such that its deployment would take far too long for it to have any impact.

So what of the UN then and the hopes for peace?

In the final analysis it would appear that the UN has made a serious and tragic mistake in East Timor. East Timor - and possibly more importantly Indonesia - were not ready for the referendum. The UN, had it thought about it sufficiently carefully, ought to have realised that the Indonesian negotiators in New York were not in a position to guarantee security.

Then, in the month leading up to the referendum - as militia violence continued unabated, albeit sporadically - the UN should have seen the writing on the wall.

Now it would seem that the television watching public of the world are in for another rude shock of a scale and manner alarmingly similar to that which they received in Kosovo.

Similar because the people that the efforts of the UN and NATO were designed to protect will not be protected.

The victims of mismanagement of the East Timor crisis by the international community are the people of East Timor. The East Timorese who in their hundreds of thousands participated in a referendum under the mistaken impression that firstly the wider world cared about them, and secondly that the wider world was capable of doing something to help them.

The motivations of the UN in East Timor and all those involved in the referendum have been pure. But tragically it appears that in many ways they have in reality only succeeded in leading the East Timorese into a trap.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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