by Farhan Haq
On August 8, residents of East Timor will vote to either opt for autonomy under Indonesian rule or choose eventual independence.
The landmark vote -- which only came about after the overthrow of Indonesia's dictator last year and through pressure from Portugal, which once ruled East Timor as a colony -- is not welcomed by Indonesia. Daily violence has erupted, primarily caused by thugs organized and trained by Indonesia. These "militias" have conducted a campaign of terror. In just a single example, Lindsay Murdoch, a reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald, wrote of a militia rampage in the East Timor city of Dili on May 10:
Indonesian security forces cheered pro-Jakarta militiamen yesterday after they had gone on a rampage in a second day of violence in Dili.The struggle for East Timor is bitter. Indonesia annexed the former Portuguese colony a year after its December 1975 invasion. Over 200,000 East Timorese, a third of the population, died in the years following the invasion from either fighting the Indonesians or from disease and hunger.
Indonesia's power elite, led by the family of ex-dictator Suharto, control about 1.5 million acres on the island, and the East Timorese resistance made it clear last March that they plan to seize the millions of dollars worth of these properties, once independence has been obtained. Many other businesses on the island are owned by the same people, including some of the retired army leaders behind the massacres.
Advocates of independence, such as Nobel prizewinner Jose Ramos-Horta, say that international intervention is urgently needed to prevent another massacre. He and others note that as militia violence increases, more Indonesian troops arrive to "protect" them. But the entire top brass of the Indonesian army and civilian bureaucracy in East Timor is closely interlinked with the inner circle that controls so much of the island.
(IPS) UNITED NATIONS -- Although UN officials agree with what human rights groups have been saying for months -- that violence by militia groups in East Timor is growing against the pro-independence movement -- but they differ on what should be the United Nations response.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in a report to the 15-nation Security Council, warned May 25 that "credible reports continue to be received of political violence, including intimidation and killings, by armed militias against unarmed pro-independence civilians."
Violence has spread in recent days by militia groups who favor a continuation of the 23-year Indonesian occupation of East Timor, Annan said.
"There are indications that the militias, believed by many observers to be operating with the acquiescence of the (Indonesian) army, have not only in recent weeks begun to attack pro-independence groups, but are beginning to threaten moderate pro-integration supporters as well."
In such a climate, Annan wrote in a report, most pro-independence leaders have gone into hiding, just weeks before the United Nations is organizing the Aug. 8 ballot.
officials and rights activists have warned that the violence could
derail the August ballot but they are divided on how such a prospect can be
Annan still trusts Indonesia to be in charge of security for the vote, while some critics warn that only the deployment of UN peacekeepers can ensure a credible ballot.
Oxfam, the international aid group, warned today that the United Nations must "immediately boost its presence in East Timor" to prevent what it contended was the "sabotaging" of the process by the pro-Indonesia militias.
"An election under the guns of the militias is not a free election," said Raymond Offenheiser, president of Oxfam. "The consultation process must be conducted in an atmosphere free of fear and intimidation."
Yet Offenheiser said that pro-independence groups have been harassed and intimidated by the militias, with many key groups and individuals in East Timor going underground and some 35,000 displaced people reportedly living in camps dominated by the militias.
"It's becoming increasingly clear that the Indonesian military are arming, training and directing militia forces," he said. "The militia appears intent on sabotaging the election by creating a climate of fear and intimidation."
"East Timor has become a law-free zone, where Indonesian-backed militias murder and commit mayhem with impunity," agreed Charles Scheiner, UN representative of the International Federation for East Timor, in a letter sent to Annan.
The United Nations, Scheiner wrote, has been failing in its responsibility to ensure the safety of Timorese in the run-up to the August ballot. As a result, he argued, the world body needs to send peacekeepers to East Timor immediately, to prevent the peace process from becoming "a cruel hoax."
Yet Annan, in his report to the Security Council, warned that "unrealistic expectations of the UN role exist among some East Timorese which cannot be met in full."
Although the United Nations will speak out against intimidation by any party in the Timorese peace process, he added, it is Indonesia's responsibility to provide security and bring armed militias under control.
That division of responsibilities was spelled out in the peace agreement signed May 5 by the Indonesian and Portuguese governments, which provided for the UN-organized vote but did not grant any peacekeeping role to UN troops.
Instead, the world body is set to deploy a UN Mission in East Timor (UNAMET), consisting of 241 international staff, 420 volunteers, some 280 civilian police and 4,000 local staff.
The police are intended to monitor Indonesia's security arrangements and help train Jakarta's forces for the ballot, but are not expected to carry any substantial weaponry or to use force.
As Gen. Wiranto, head of the Indonesian armed forces, said recently, the UNAMET police "will only give suggestions to the Indonesian police."
For critics of Jakarta's occupation of East Timor, that is not enough. "The Indonesian military and its civilian leadership are playing the international community for fools, and the credibility of the United Nations itself is at stake," Scheiner argued.
UN officials, however, are hemmed in by the need to secure approval of the Indonesian government for any deployment of troops -- something Jakarta is not prepared to do.
The one real card Annan can play, if the violence continues, is to inform the Security Council that conditions for a fair vote do not exist -- a recommendation which would likely cancel the current voting arrangements and embarrass Indonesia.
In his Council report, Annan pointedly noted, "I intend to carry out that responsibility (to certify the security situation) with the utmost care."
June 7, 1999 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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