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Clark: speech from East Timor debate

Labour
2000 web siteThe New Zealand Labour Party strongly supports New Zealand making a contribution to the peace keeping force in East Timor.

Our first thoughts today are for the men and women who will be representing New Zealand in East Timor – and for their families.

Everyone is well aware that our commitment of troops to East Timor involves real risks to those we are sending.

No country takes lightly the decision to commit its young men and women to military activity of any kind overseas.

In this case, however, our responsibility is clear. It is to act to uphold the result of the vote for independence in East Timor and to enable that small country to establish its independence.

That would not be achieved without the presence of international peace-keepers.

Most New Zealanders understand well the background to the recent traumatic events in East Timor.

East Timor was illegally annexed by Indonesia in 1975.

An estimated one-third of its population was killed or starved to death in the next four years.

East Timor was subjected to heavy military oppression by Indonesia. Yet over these long, terrible 24 years, the desire of the people for independence never died.

Standing alongside the people of East Timor have been many people and organisations of conscience. In this respect I pay a special tribute to the Catholic Church and its agencies, and to Bishop Carlos Belo – a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Without their constant faith the attention of the world may well have been diverted permanently away from East Timor’s concerns.

East Timor’s chance for independence came with the crumbling of the old order in Indonesia.

Indonesia is in a process of political transition. That process is far from stable. Elections have been held and a new president will be elected in due course.

All eyes are on Indonesia to assess whether a new civilian administration will be able to exert more control over the military than the present one seems capable of.

The interim President, Mr Habibie, and his government enabled the ballot in East Timor to be held.

It has been tragic for the East Timorese, however, that the Indonesia Government having pledged to maintain law and order before and after the ballot, proved either unable or unwilling to do so.

Historians will debate whether the United Nations was wise to accept Indonesia’s assurance of maintaining order in East Timor, given that lines of civilian authority in Indonesia are weak, given that Indonesia’s military itself does not appear to have strong command and control structures, and given that that military has long been highly resistant to allowing East Timor to embark on the road to independence.
In the run up to the East Timor ballot there were many signs that Indonesia would not be able to maintain law and order in the event of a vote for independence.

Notwithstanding that and a good deal of intimidation from the militia, the East Timorese voted decisively.

The reaction from the pro-Indonesian militia and the Indonesia military itself was monstrous. They have destroyed East Timor’s infrastructure, many people have been killed, and probably in excess of 200,000 have been displaced.

International pressure on Indonesia had by last weekend led to Indonesia’s agreement for the United Nations to intervene.

The Security Council has acted speedily in resolving to support the rapid entry of a multinational force and to follow that with a formal United Nations peacekeeping force.

In readily agreeing to be part of that force we in New Zealand demonstrate again our willingness to back the United Nations, our commitment to regional peace and security, and our commitment to uphold the vote for independence in East Timor.

The first task of the international force will be to establish a foothold, and then to extend its authority throughout the territory.

Alongside that will be the efforts of the aid agencies to provide food and other humanitarian relief.

The task ahead is huge.

This new nation inherits the scorched earth left behind by the departing Indonesian occupiers.

A new civilian administration must be built.

There are massive needs for new housing and infrastructure.

Displaced people need to come home to safe conditions.

There will be many traumatised people who have seen acts of savagery committed against their families and neighbours.

It is going to be tough.

It is not yet clear whether Indonesia will continue to obstruct the establishment of East Timor.

Reports from West Timor where there are well in excess of 100,000 refugees are not encouraging.

Oxfam today has called for diplomatic pressure on Jakarta to enable relief agencies and human rights monitors to have access to West Timor and the refugee camps. Those camps must be demilitarised, and the safe return of refugees to East Timor must be facilitated.

In the next few days New Zealand troops may well face resistance from the militia and from dissident units of the Indonesian army in East Timor.
I am confident that we are sending world class professional soldiers who will acquit themselves well whatever the challenge.

There remains the medium, and longer term issue of New Zealand’s relationship with Indonesia.

Both New Zealand and Australia have worked hard on that relationship for decades. That did not stop Indonesia yesterday unilaterally abrogating its security agreement with Australia. That is a matter of deep regret.

The most optimistic view is that a new Indonesia will emerge from the transition to democracy and that in time better and more durable relations with Australia and New Zealand will follow.

The more pessimistic view is that Indonesia may be in turmoil for some time and that its evolution to more democratic government may be impeded by secessionist pressures from other parts of the country.

New Zealand has every interest in seeing Indonesia complete its democratic transition and rebuild its economy and society from the harsh blow dealt to it by the Asian financial crisis.

I trust the strong message from this Parliament today will be New Zealand’s desire to be a good neighbour, both to a new Indonesia and to the new nation of East Timor.

There is a long road ahead of both nations: one vast, the other tiny. New Zealand stands ready to help as best it can in the interests of peace and stability in our region.

To the New Zealand service men and women who in the next few days will leave for East Timor, I say that this Parliament supports your mission and knows you will acquit yourselves well.

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