Subject: FEER: Excerpts From Interview With U.N.'s Annan

Far Eastern Economic Review, Dow Jones February 16, 2000

Review: Excerpts From Interview With U.N.'s Annan

BANGKOK -- It isn't easy for the U.N. to demonstrate that it means business.

The world body's peacekeeping efforts have been criticized for being piecemeal or ineffective; UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's proposals for making the world freer and safer through humanitarian intervention in crises look impossibly idealistic. Perhaps nowhere more so than in Asia, where Annan is on a 17-day tour.

Since assuming the post of secretary-general in 1997, the soft-spoken Ghanaian has had to deal with conflicts in Europe and the Middle East. In the past year, a small corner of Southeast Asia became a proving ground for Annan's conviction that sovereignty should, in some cases, be no obstacle to achieving humanitarian goals and upholding international law.

In an exclusive interview with the REVIEW Feb. 11, Annan reflected on the lessons of the tragedy that unfolded in East Timor after the U.N.-sponsored ballot on independence in August. An unknown number of people died and more than half the territory's population fled after pro-Indonesian militiamen seized control, often with the support of locally recruited Indonesian troops.

Annan admits that the U.N. acted tragically too late to save many lives after the violence erupted, but defends the decision to go ahead with the vote.

He says it will take time for East Timor to establish full independence: "I think it is unrealistic for anyone to expect the U.N. within the short period of six months or so to build a society from scratch."

Annan was due to visit East Timor Feb. 17-18 and discuss plans with local leaders to hold elections, form a parliament and declare independence, in what he says will be a two-year timeframe.

In Jakarta earlier, Annan was expected to face criticism over the recommendation of a U.N. team of human-rights experts that the U.N. should set up an international tribunal to try members of the Indonesian military implicated in the Timor killings. The establishment of such a tribunal gets to the heart of his desire to see the U.N. develop the muscle needed to uphold human rights on a global level.

Annan spoke to Far Eastern Economic Review Managing Editor Michael Vatikiotis and correspondent Shawn W. Crispin in Bangkok.

Excerpts:

On opposition in Asia to the idea of humanitarian intervention in conflict areas:

I don't think it should raise hackles. I think one has to look at the world situation as it exists today very, very carefully.

We have an organization with its own charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which most of the U.N. member states have signed onto. In my statement before the General Assembly I indicated that the member states need to discuss this issue and come to some consensus as to when we intervene and when we don't.

We talk about defending the common interest; what is the common interest? Who defines the common interest? Who defends it and under what authority? There is a serious debate going on within the organization, within the Security Council, the General Assembly and academic institutions looking at this issue.

On the violence in East Timor that followed the territory's August vote on independence:

I think what is important is that the violence happened after the ballot. On the day of the ballot things went well. When the Indonesian authorities failed to meet a commitment to secure the environment and to protect the citizens, we did press the government to allow foreign troops to come in and secure the place, which they did. This is how the international force went in.

So the U.N. did act, tragically too late for some people. But action was taken and I think if you talk to the East Timorese public leaders now and ask if the ballot should have gone ahead or not, you will get a very clear answer.

[The U.N.] anticipated some difficulties, some violence, otherwise we wouldn't have entered into an agreement with the Indonesian government to ensure that they provided security throughout the process until it was handed over to the U.N. It is one thing to anticipate it, it is another to have total and wanton destruction of everything in sight.

On whether an international tribunal or an Indonesian court should investigate the role of Indonesia's military in the violence that followed the vote for independence:

The government of President [Abdurrahman] Wahid is taking the matter very seriously. What is important is that those responsible are made to account and that they are brought to justice. Ideally, in all these situations the government concerned should try those people and punish them if they are found guilty. And obviously the government seems to be moving in that direction.

-For the complete interview, see this week's edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review.


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