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Highlights Of Briefing By Kofi Annan

Friday, September 10, 1999

The following are highlights from the Secretary-General's briefing on East Timor at UN headquarters. This is not an official transcript. There was no regular noon briefing today by the Spokesman for the Secretary General.


 "Before the eyes of the world, the people of East Timor have been terrorized and massacred because they exercised their right for self-determination in a ballot organized by the United Nations under an agreement reached, with my help, between Portugal -- the former colonial power -- and Indonesia -- the currently occupying power," the Secretary-General said. He noted that the agreement had been supported by the East Timorese leaders.

 Under that agreement, Indonesia had the responsibility to maintain order and security in the Territory during and after the ballot until the results had been accepted by the new Indonesia Parliament.

 Regretably, Indonesia has failed to fulfil that responsibility, even with the introduction of martial law in the last 72 hours. East Timor is descending into anarchy," he said. The anti-independence militias who had been overwhelmingly defeated at the ballot had engaged in "an orgy of looting, burning and killing."

 The Secretary-General said he had been in frequent contact with the President of Indonesia, urging him to bring situation under control but it continued to deteriorate. Hundreds of thousands of East Timorese have had to abandon homes. Many had been forcibly relocated to West Timor and other parts of Indonesia. The fate of many others is unknown.

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 The United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) had been forced, on security grounds to evacuate 12 of its 13 regional centers, and to concentrate its remaining presence in Dili. "In the process, UNAMET has been subjected to repeated threats, several of our local staff have been murdered, one of our civilian police has been wounded, live rounds have been fired into our premises in Baukau at body height." For that reason, the Secretary-General had authorized his Representative, Ian Martin, to move all local staff and their dependants and non-essential international staff from Dili to Darwin, Australia.

 He then described a new incident which had taken place last night at the UN compound and adjoining school compound. "The militias fired their weapons in the air and threatened to invade the UNAMET compound itself. Yet the Indonesian forces, who were supposed to be protecting the compound, did nothing. So far, they have been either unable or unwilling to take effective steps to restore security."

 The Secretary-General said he was remaining in hourly contact with Martin while awaiting the outcome of the Security Council mission to the area.

 "We are keeping the situation under constant review and I'm ready to take any decision necessary to ensure the safety of UN personnel," he said.

 "At the same time, I remain deeply concerned about the fate of the internally displaced persons who are still in the UNAMET compound and the adjoining school compound," he said. "We shall continue to examine urgently what can be done to ensure the security of this unfortunate group."

 The Secretary-General said he knew -- not least because of thousands of messages he had received from all over world over the past few days -- that many people believed that the United Nations was abandoning the people of East Timor in their hour of greatest need. "Let me assure you most emphatically that this is not the case, but the situation has clearly got far beyond what a small mission, which was sent to organize a popular vote and never equipped or mandated to enforce law and order can possibly be expected to do."

 "The time has clearly come for Indonesia to seek help from the international community in fulfilling its responsibility to bring order and security to the people of East Timor and to allow those who have been displaced to return home in safety," he stressed.

 A number of governments, including Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines and Malaysia, had indicated their willingness to participate in an international force for this purpose. Australia in particular had made a very substantial commitment and had agreed to take the lead.

 The Secretary-General urged the Indonesian Government to accept their offer of help without further delay.
 "If it refuses to do so, it cannot escape the responsibility for what could amount, according to reports reaching us, to crimes against humanity," the Secretary-General said. "In any event those responsible for these crimes must be called to account."

 East Timor was at a moment of great crisis, danger and uncertainty, but, he pointed out, its people had been able to register and vote in overwhelming numbers to decide for the first time in their history what they wanted their future to be.

 "The international community has a responsibility to see that their wishes are respected and that violence is not allowed to dictate the outcome," he said.


 Some 480 people left from the UN compound in Dili to Darwin Friday. Among them were some 350 local staff with their immediate dependants. They were transported in six flights of the Australian Air Force.

 After the last convoy left the UN compound to the airport, groups of militia went to the area near the UN building firing weapons and threatening to invade the compound itself. They did go to the adjacent schoolyard housing several hundred people displaced by the violence and where several UNAMET vehicles were parked. The militia wanted the keys to the UN vehicles. When they were refused, they went into a rampage and started to smash the windows of the vehicles and steal the equipment and possessions kept inside the cars. The Indonesian Army contingent at the compound did nothing to stop it.

 The Secretary-General's Special Representative in East Timor, Ian Martin, remains in the UN compound in Dili together with other members of his staff, numbering some 100.


 At the news briefing, a correspondent asked whether there would be an intervention similar to that which had taken place in Kosovo. The Secretary-General noted that so far, the Governments who he had been in touch with, were not thinking along those lines. "But I think we should all put collective pressure on Indonesia, given that it has failed in its commitment to assure security, to accept assistance from the international community to stop the killing. I appeal honestly to the Government of Indonesia to accept this offer." He added that comparisons to what had happened in Kosovo and elsewhere were not irrelevant.

 A correspondent asked whether, looking back, anything else could have been done to create a different outcome. In response, the Secretary-General said, "The UN was not naïve about the history of violence in East Timor during past 24 years." He noted the Indonesian Government, which had been occupied the Territory for 24 years, had insisted that it had the capacity to assure security and that it would not accept a peacekeeping force. On the day of the vote, Indonesia had been able to assure security. "Why haven't they maintained that effort for one to be able to move on to effective implementation of the results of the ballot?" he said.

 The Secretary-General said there were people who, in hindsight, were saying that the United Nations should not have accepted the word of the Indonesians that they would maintain law and order. He said that after 24 years of impasse, if that had not been accepted, there probably would have been no vote.

 "Everybody thought they will deliver. Nobody in his wildest dreams thought what we are witnessing could happen," he said, adding, "we knew it was going to be difficult, we knew about the security problems, but not the carnage and the chaos we have seen."

 "I can assure you that if those who were putting together the deal -- and we must remember the agreement was signed by Portugal and Indonesia with the support of their leaders, unanimously endorsed by the Council -- if any of us had an inkling that it was going to be this chaotic I don't think anyone would have gone forward. We are no fools."

 A correspondent asked about the apparent dichotomy between the civilian and military authorities in Indonesia. The Secretary-General said that in this effort, "we have worked both levels." He personally had been working at the political level with President Habibie, and others governments had been asked to work on General Wiranto. "So in effect, we've been pushing both the military and the political leaders to deliver."

 The Secretary-General noted that there were concerns that what was happening may in East Timor may affect other regions, like Aceh and Irian Iaya but, he added, "we are not out there to try and undo Indonesia." The United Nations was mainly concerned with East Timor, which had a different history.

 In response to another question, the Secretary-General said he had been encouraged by President Clinton's statements on East Timor, as well as those of other leaders. "We should all double our efforts to encourage and push and press the Indonesian authorities to seek help, because their own reputation and international image is on the line, if not in tatters already."

 A correspondent then asked if there were "any other creative ideas" such as armed humanitarian convoy "or some other thing that the Indonesians might be able to live with?" The Secretary-General said he had discussed this with President Habibie a few days ago, noting that the United Nations would want to go back with humanitarian assistance. "He was receptive to the idea, but I did raise the question of security -- that the aid workers going in must be able to operate in a secure environment." The President had said that Indonesia was going to bring the situation under control with martial law, which had not worked. The idea for sending humanitarian workers back in was still open, the Secretary-General said, adding, "I would hope our own staff who have been withdrawn but have not left the Mission area (the temporary redeployment to Darwin) will be able to go back as soon as the situation improves and their security can be assured."

 A correspondent asked whether the Secretary-General would be willing, at the current stage, to recommend the creation of an ad hoc tribunal to investigate possible crimes against humanity. The Secretary-General replied that that may be a bit premature, as further investigation was required. "That may not be excluded but at this stage I'm not ready to do that."

 In response to a question on the activities of the Security Council mission in Jakarta, he said its members had held a number of meetings, including with President Habibie, General Wiranto, Foreign Minister Alatas, opposition leader Megawati and Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao, who the Secretary-General had also spoken with. The mission would be headed for Dili tomorrow if the situation permitted. "I would hope they would also be able to visit our headquarters and assess the situation with our staff." The mission would then return and report to the full Council.

 A correspondent asked whether the Secretary-General felt personally betrayed by Indonesia's actions. "I don’t know if betrayal is the right word," he said. "I think I'm shocked by what has happened. I think we are all amazed that this would happen, and that a Government with such a large army is unable to bring the situation under control."

 He added, "I am pained and I am deeply disappointed that this has happened, above all for the East Timorese people who, for the first time in 24 years get the chance to express themselves, and speak eloquently and loudly as to what they want their destiny to be, and suddenly they are in sea of violence in a very chaotic situation. I feel very sorry for them. Their leader is now in the British embassy, and this would have been the time when he should be there, talking to his people, preparing for the future. That's why I believe we should not allow the militia and their supporters whoever they may be to undo the results of the ballot with violence. The people have voted and the results must stand. It should not be undone with violence."

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