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Phil Goff, Address Internatiional Affairs Seminar

Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Consequences of the Crisis over East Timor for Indonesia and the Rest of the Asia-Pacific Region

Address to The New Zealand Institute of International Affairs International Seminar
Victoria University Law School, Wellington

9.30 am, 5 July 2000

I would first like to thank the New Zealand Institute for International Affairs and the Australian Asia Centre for organising this seminar.

What makes this such a special occasion is to have with us today Xanana Gusmao. It is rare that we have the privilege of studying the history of an event in the presence of one who has contributed so much to its making.

We pay tribute to him today for his leadership of his people in their struggle to be free from oppression and to achieve independence. Xanana, we acknowledge the contribution you have made as resistance fighter and a political prisoner, and the wisdom and integrity you have shown as a leader.

In my comments today, I briefly examine the events that led to the crisis in East Timor last September and the consequences for New Zealand of its decision to commit peacekeeping forces. I question whether the success of this intervention should lead us to consider a similar response to conflicts in the Solomon Islands and Fiji.

I look at the consequences for Indonesia of the crisis. Finally I consider whether the problems of conflict in East Timor, Indonesia and the Pacific have similar causes and touch on possible solutions.

After 24 years of occupation and oppression of East Timor by Indonesia, in February last year President Habibie unexpectedly ordered a referendum offering autonomy to East Timor. The poll was conducted competently by the United Nations but took place in an atmosphere of violence and intimidation by pro-Indonesian militias.

For those of us who participated as UNAMET observers, it was an unforgettable experience.

Fear and tension co-existed with hope and expectation. From the moment the polls opened on election day at 6am, it was clear from the queues of people who walked determinedly past the militias and Polri that people were turning out in their hundreds not to vote for autonomy but for independence. Over 98% cast their vote and nearly 80% voted for independence.

At each polling place banners proclaimed that UNAMET would be there to protect the people after the election. It was a promise made by the United Nations in good faith but one that it proved utterly incapable of honouring.

The militias and their TNI backers had banked on a combination of bribery and intimidation producing a much closer and less clear-cut result.

According to an Indonesian official we spoke to before the ballot result was announced there was a fall back option if the vote was lost. "If these ungrateful people vote for independence," he told us, "we will carry out everything we can and what we cannot we will destroy". They were true to their word.

The scale of destruction and forced evacuation of people out of East Timor carried out by the militias and the military after the poll was planned rather than spontaneous. The plan was to destroy and ethnically cleanse East Timor in a manner which would utterly nullify the vote for independence.

Those who carried out this plan seemed to assume that the international community would condemn what happened but stand back and do nothing, as it did when Indonesia invaded 24 years earlier and consistently thereafter.

The response of the international community this time was different.

The devastation and destruction wrought by the militias was transmitted live by CNN and BBC around the world. The reaction was outrage by people and governments alike throughout the international community. The APEC meeting in Auckland created a forum at which this outrage could take collective form.

President Clinton threatened an economically vulnerable Indonesia with the freezing of IMF funding. The weak and already unpopular Habibie administration faced economic crisis on the eve of election polls.

This, combined with the weight of international opinion, persuaded the Indonesian government to agree to an international peacekeeping force being dispatched to East Timor.

Having reversed its earlier policy of supporting the Soeharto Government over East Timor, Australia indicated its willingness to provide the core of the military effort needed to deal with the militias and establish stability and security.

As we worked for this outcome and watched it unfold, with the relatively smooth re-establishment of order in East Timor, we might be forgiven the euphoria of believing that this was a turning point for the region.

Certainly it was in marked contrast to the years when democracies such as the United States, Australia and New Zealand failed to take the effective action against Indonesia's invasion of East Timor and even ceased to condemn the occupation and oppression.

Within a relatively short space of time the international community acted effectively to end the destruction in East Timor and headed off the genocide which may have occurred had no action been taken.

UNAMET had made an undertaking it had been unable to fulfil. But the international community avoided the shame and what would have been a fatal loss of credibility for the United Nations by taking action which in the end saw the promise honoured.

From a New Zealand perspective, action to come to the assistance of East Timor was unanimously supported across all parties in parliament and received overwhelming public support. The contribution initially of around 1000 personnel represented a huge military commitment from a country our size and we were amongst the first to go in.

There remains a pride amongst New Zealanders in what Kiwi peacekeepers have helped to achieve and the professionalism and humanity they have shown in how they have carried it out.

Neither the death of two New Zealand soldiers in accidents in East Timor nor the cost of over $50 million per annum seem to have dented the support for this commitment.

There have been other consequences for New Zealand. Those on the left of the political spectrum have become converts to the concept of a combat ready defence force needed to carry out a peacekeeping operation of this nature. There are clearly occasions when military capability is needed to achieve peace and an end to oppression.

The need to better equip those on the front line of our peacekeeping force, first made obvious in Bosnia, has also been reinforced. There is little dissent about the expenditure of significant sums of money to upgrade armoured personnel carriers, radio equipment and weapons systems.

There have been positive consequences in the way in which New Zealand has been regarded by other countries as the result of its efforts. Major-General Cosgrove, who led the INTERFET forces sang the praises of the New Zealand effort. Across the board in East Timor, Australians acknowledged the size and the timing of the intervention by the Kiwis.

The cooperation between the New Zealand and Australian forces, following the joint operation earlier in Bougainville in many respects emphasised the best of the ANZAC tradition.

For the time being at least, the criticism by Australian commentators that New Zealand isn't pulling its weight in defence and security of the region has been silenced. The Americans, who look to others in regional areas to help settle conflict and achieve regional security, have acknowledged New Zealand's contribution as have a number of South-East Asian and North Asian nations.

There is an expectation that New Zealand and Australia have specific responsibility to help resolve problems within the South Pacific.

However, intervention in East Timor may have led to a less realistic expectation that where conflict exists in our region, a solution to this through a peacekeeping effort is always possible.

Recent events in Fiji and the Solomon Islands have demonstrated the limited ability of outside countries to find solutions to the internal problems of some of our closest neighbours.

What these examples highlight is that each conflict while having some features in common also has unique characteristics. A framework for response which is relevant in one may be totally unsuitable in another.

In the Solomon Islands, for example, it is tempting to see a military solution to ethnic conflict between militant groups representing the Guale and Malaitan peoples.

A small disciplined ANZAC force might readily be able to overcome the untrained and undisciplined youth who make up much of the militant groups. But that would not provide a solution to the political and ethnic problems which underlie the conflict.

To the contrary, any deaths incurred by either militant group as a result of youths taking on New Zealand troops would result in blame, anger and pay-back being directed against New Zealanders for years to come.

The intervention of peacekeeping forces in Bougainville was successful, but it came at the end of more than 10 years of fighting, death and destruction which led all sides to express support for a truce and peaceful negotiations.

By contrast, in the Solomons both sides still retain confidence that they can impose their will by violence.

It is extraordinarily difficult for outside countries to provide peacekeeping where there is no peace to keep and lack of support from local militant groups for negotiations for peace.

Few New Zealanders would advocate putting New Zealand soldiers' lives at risk in a futile effort to stop macho young men determined to kill each other. Yet should an escalation of ethnic violence mean a massive loss of civilian lives as in Rwanda or Kosovo the pressure for intervention may become irresistible.

New Zealand stands ready in the Solomons to support the peace process. That could include participation as part of a multilateral peacekeeping force but there are preconditions in relation to how and when such a force should intervene with the prospect of being able to make a positive difference.

In Fiji, we have empathy for the Indo-Fijians who are seen as victims of violence and actions designed to reduce their status to that of second-class citizens. There is also anger that a group of gunmen should be able to overthrow a government only recently elected.

However, the true conflict is rivalry between the different indigenous groups to assert their power. There can be little chance of outside intervention in Fiji unless this was invited and almost no prospect that this would happen.

While military intervention was appropriate, warranted and successful in re-establishing stability and security in East Timor, the same mode of intervention does not automatically offer a solution in the two current areas of conflict in the Pacific.

The immediate consequences of the East Timor crisis for Indonesia were negative. Both the East Timorese and the world hold Indonesia responsible for the devastation of the country by the rampaging militias.

Jakarta may not have directly ordered the violence but it failed absolutely to put an end to it. The TNI were clearly implicated in supporting the militias. The heavily armed Polri stood by and did nothing while buildings were destroyed and people terrorised.

The consequences of the crisis could easily have been lasting enmity by East Timor against their large neighbour and by an international community which held Indonesia responsible.

A change in government and the first administration democratically elected in Indonesia since 1955 has helped to ameliorate the situation.

President Wahid has set out to develop a friendly relationship with Xanana Gusmao and has endeavoured to establish Indonesia as a good neighbour which will want to continue aid and support for East Timor. His undertaking to try those accused of war crimes in East Timor following the release of the Komnas Ham report has also helped to lay a foundation for improving relations between the two countries.

The CNRT has reciprocated indicating that it holds the TNI and the militia responsible for the damage done, not the people or the new government of Indonesia.

It is important for both countries that an amicable working relationship be established between them. Given the history of the last 24 years, however, the improving relationship must be regarded as fragile.

With the independence of East Timor, the pebble in Indonesia's shoe, to coin Ali Alitas' phrase, has been removed. However, the continuing concern within Indonesia is what precedent East Timor's independence sets for other secessionist groups within the archipelago, such as West Papua and Aceh.

President Wahid has again extended an olive branch, offering dialogue and greater autonomy in secessionist areas where once the only response would have been the use of military terror to crush insurgency.

New Zealand has welcomed and supported this approach. There is concern, however, that the President has achieved limited success in subordinating the armed forces to civil authority. There are persistent reports from Aceh and Maluku of military involvement in arming and supporting combatant groups or failing to prevent avoidable incidents.

The new government in Indonesia has inspired real hope for the future after the corruption and oppression of the Soeharto years. Yet the new government itself has run into trouble. As well as being unable to resolve ethnic conflicts it has failed so far to persuade international investors that it is serious about reform and that it has implemented the rule of law. As sacked minister Lakesmana Sukardi, recently wrote, "the pathologies of the previous regime remain in the system".

The problems facing Indonesia are in many cases the same as those facing the Melanesian nations of the South Pacific. National boundaries are the borders imposed by former colonial powers and the groupings within those boundaries often relate more to ethnic or tribal subgroups than to the nation.

Transmigration and land issues cause ethnic tension which can lead to violence and expose the failure of the state to function properly.

Democracy and a parliamentary system have been grafted on to more traditional forms of authority and commitment to them tends to be shallow rather than deep-rooted. The conventions which have developed over hundreds of years in the Westminster system, and are part of our belief system, do not have the same force in the Pacific or for that matter much of South East Asia. Key concepts of good governance and the rule of law equally are not entrenched in the same way.

High population growth, urbanisation and associated problems of unemployment and crime, and inadequate and poorly developed economic resources create a socio-economic situation which contributes to instability and conflict.

These are the issues which underlie much of the conflict and instability in the region.

To conclude, the solutions to these problems do not lie simply in a willingness to intervene in a peacekeeping capacity after conflict has broken out.

Restoring peace may be a necessary prerequisite to tackling the problems, but sustainable peace in turn relies on resolving the underlying causes of the conflict.

Economic development and education to create employment, social development, good governance and the rule of law are all fundamental to tackling the causes of conflict. Changes to the political system towards high levels of regional autonomy within a federal system and evolving a political system which combines principles such as democracy and accountability with respect for traditional structures may be equally important in finding a solution.

These are some of the issues which I am sure subsequent speakers will explore over the new two days. I wish you well with your deliberations.

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