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US State Department Briefing On East Timor

DPB # 117
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 7, 1998, 1:22 P.M.

MR. RUBIN: Welcome to the State Department briefing. I have no statements; I have no announcements; I only have my presence here to answer your questions.

QUESTION: We'd be interested, I think, in the latest on East Timor, including any thoughts you may have on ways in which you might be showing your displeasure with the Indonesians for the lack of order in East Timor.

MR. RUBIN: Yes. Clearly the security situation in East Timor is deeply disturbing. Armed pro-integration militia groups are forcing the displacement of thousands of people, attacking concentrations of internally displaced persons, attacking the homes and offices of prominent community leaders, and intimidating foreigners, including United Nations personnel. Many have been killed. Indonesian military and police forces have allowed - and in some cases participated in - these abuses. President Habibie has declared a military emergency and has given the authority to restore order to the armed forces lead by General Wiranto. We urge the Indonesian Government to take effective action to restore order.

Our embassy has facilitated the departure of American citizens who wish to leave. We understand that all Americans who wish to leave East Timor have done so. Almost all of the remaining Americans are members of the UN mission. The UN mission has sent some staff members out of East Timor, but hundreds of whom a small number are Americans remain. As you know, a UN Security Council delegation is being sent to the region consisting of ambassadors from Namibia, Malaysia, Slovenia, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, and they will begin their meetings tomorrow in Jakarta.

Secretary Albright has spoken to Foreign Minister Ali Alatas and we have been in frequent and direct communication with the government of Indonesia over the past days to express our concern over the appalling and chaotic situation in East Timor. The Indonesians do still acknowledge their responsibility to insure order and they have told us they - they told us prior to yesterday they planned to declare a military emergency. That plan has now been put into effect and we will now be assessing whether that plan has any impact on the appalling security situation in East Timor.

Clearly we do wish to maintain productive relations with Indonesia, but the maintenance of productive relations between Indonesia and the United States and the international community at large depends upon Indonesia adopting a constructive attitude toward both ending the humanitarian disaster in East Timor and supporting the UN-administered process by which East Timor will become independent. That has, in general, been the message we've been sending.

QUESTION: Have you seen any evidence so far that martial law has any impact whatsoever?

MR. RUBIN: I think it's impossible to assess it so quickly. We're talking about a number of hours since it's been initiated and I don't think we have an ability to assess this on a real-time basis. As I indicated to you, there are very few Americans there. The few that are there are obviously not in a position to spread amongst the countryside or throughout the city of Dili, so it's not possible to make that judgment yet.

QUESTION: Why would the international community or why the United States think that the military would have any greater will or capability to secure order there when it hasn't so far?

MR. RUBIN: We'll have to see. We haven't made a judgment that it would. What we've made a judgment is that we would assess the situation; that they've said they will. They continue to take responsibility for security in East Timor and that we've made very clear our view of the appalling situation and that it is their responsibility; and they continue to take responsibility and until it achieves the objective which is the restoration of law and order, we're not going to be satisfied.

QUESTION: Will the US play any role in an international interim force that Australia is pushing?

MR. RUBIN: I don't know that anybody is pushing anything really at this time. Right now what's going on is that the United States and others have been engaged in intensive discussions with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and the leaders of other concerned nations, including Australia, over how to best address the breakdown of order in East Timor. We have made it known in our side of these discussions that the responsibility for security remains with Indonesia. But Secretary Albright did indicate yesterday - quite clearly - that the Indonesian government must take care of the violence or let the international community be of assistance so that order can be restored, and that is our view.

QUESTION: It's not a terribly big place. How long will you all take to make this assessment? Is there a deadline for the Indonesian Government to get control over East Timor?

MR. RUBIN: Clearly we are not talking about a long period of time in being able to determine whether the new plan is going to succeed. Clearly the UN Security Council ambassadors are going to be there tomorrow and don't expect to dally, and we should know quickly whether the Indonesians are going to take care of the violence themselves or let the international community be of assistance, and it may be necessary for the UN and the international community to be of assistance.

QUESTION: Australia has asked the United States to commit troops to a force that Australia would lead and President Clinton has said he'd consider it but the US was heavily committed elsewhere. There is a widespread perception in Australia that the US is abandoning Australia over this issue. Could you tell us why the US is reluctant to commit troops and whether you see this as a regional issue that should be sorted out by regional players?

MR. RUBIN: I wouldn't assume that any of the premises of your question are necessarily accurate. I don't think the White House has put out precisely what President Clinton said in respect --

QUESTION: The Australian Government has released that information.

MR. RUBIN: Right - well I haven't seen - normally the United States is happy to tell the press what we say in our side of the conversation but we don't always characterize the other side of the conversation, and I'm sure the Australian Government has been equally responsible.

But having said that, I did just indicate that it might be necessary to have an international peacekeeping force and if that were necessary -- and we would obviously look at ways to be helpful but we don't think it is necessary to speculate on that publicly at this point because, at this point, it's up to the Indonesians to provide the security necessary and it's also all predicated - even the Australian discussion on the Indonesians accepting an international peacekeeping force.

QUESTION: Are there US national security interests involved in East Timor?

MR. RUBIN: I think our national interest is affected by the instability in East Timor. In the broadest sense, Indonesia is a country that is a place where the United States has significant interest given the sea lanes and a number of other factors that affect international commerce through that part of the world. To the extent that East Timor affects the stability of Indonesia it therefore affects those sea lanes.

More importantly - or without grading it - in addition, rather, there is a clear human rights component here where people who are aspiring to their freedom are being killed for that aspiration, and that is something that matters to the United States. So we have interests. We have a human rights interest and we have a national interest in the sea lanes in Indonesia. Whether that interest yields what policy is a different question.

QUESTION: Is there any thought being given to any kind of tribunal to be set up to try people who have been doing - running around with machetes and such?

MR. RUBIN: I haven't heard. I think that strikes me as a bit premature. We're right now trying to deal with the security situation and dealing with the question of how to reestablish order, but I'm sure that the human rights violations that have occurred will be something we will continue to focus on.

QUESTION: Indonesia has in the past or recent past asked the IMF for several large loans. At this point would the United States be inclined to try to block such loans?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I don't want to be more specific than to say that productive relations between Indonesia and the international community, including the IMF, depend on Indonesia adopting a constructive approach towards ending the humanitarian disaster in East Timor and supporting the UN-administered process by which East Timor will become independent. Obviously the relations with the international community are affected; that doesn't mean that any specific loan or any specific fund is - I'm not answering the specific question but, in general, obviously it affects the relationship.

QUESTION: Is it viewed as sort of anticipate ways to influence the Indonesian government when, you know, if you were to withhold loans it could again destabilize the economy there which is already --

MR. RUBIN: Well, again, I didn't say we would withhold loans. I made a broader point that it is in Indonesia's interest to have productive relations with the international community. I think that's clear. The Indonesian President has made that clear, and it's not possible to have productive relations with the international community with this crisis getting worse and worse. That is a reality of a fact of life.

As to what decisions we would make on any specific IMF loan, they are primarily based on financial criteria and so I don't want to speculate beyond that.

QUESTION: Two questions. Do you know how many Americans have left East Timor in recent days, number one; and I saw a new verb on the wire. It's called "Kosovoed out" and I think the rough interpretation of that is that you don't go charging into East Timor so soon after the controversial decision to go into Kosovo which was roughly or less than six months ago.

Do you subscribe to that in any way, shape, or form?

MR. RUBIN: No, I don't. In fact, I think the controversy over that decision has been redeemed by the freedom achieved for the people of Kosovo so that controversy is over, in my opinion.

The question of East Timor and Kosovo are not the same: They are not in the same part of the world; they don't have the same objective situations; they don't come on the basis of three wars started by President Milosevic. It's very facile in facile analysis to make facile analogies between East Timor and Kosovo. In East Timor there is a referendum; in Kosovo there wasn't a referendum. In Indonesia you have a country of a very different character than a Serbia that started a war in Slovenia, started a war in Croatia, started a war in Bosnia, and was responsible for mass murder in the way that the Serb authorities were and were indicted by the war crimes tribunal for.

So it's easy for some human rights organizations or journalists or others to equate situations that we don't regard as the same. It doesn't mean we care less about East Timor than we care about Kosovo but it does mean that they are different places with different national interests, different histories, different factors at play, and people should be very careful before they throw analogies around just to make their life easier when they're trying to explain their position.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) - how many Americans -- (inaudible)?

MR. RUBIN: I don't have the number but I'll get that for you.

QUESTION: Two questions. One, do you compare East Timor with Kashmir, number one? Number two, since Indonesia is the world's largest Muslim country, what other Muslim countries that their views - (inaudible) - the US discussions with other Muslim countries what we read about this situation there?

MR. RUBIN: East Timor is not Kosovo and East Timor is not Kashmir, and you can quote me on that. With respect to the Muslim country question, I don't think it's really an issue of whether the country is predominantly Muslim or not and so I don't understand the question.

....Continues on other subjects....

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