Subject: The Age analysis: UN gets the same old story from Jakarta

The Age Thursday 21 September 2000

Comment and Analysis

UN gets the same old story from Jakarta


The Western diplomat had seen it all before.

"It's as if the last year simply didn't happen," he said, scratching his head in disbelief. "What did that baseball guy say? 'It's deja vu all over again?' That's what it feels like in there."

The "baseball guy" was legendary New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra, a master of malapropism. "In there" was a special meeting of the United Nations Security Council hearing Indonesia's latest plan to crack down on the murderous pro-Jakarta militias in West Timor.

Indonesia has vowed to order the militia to lay down their arms and, if they don't, to take the weapons by force.

It is the same strategy Indonesia agreed to more than a year ago when the militias were hacking people to death in the lead-up to the East Timorese independence ballot.

It didn't work then. The international community is within its rights to ask why it should now.

Last year's operation was supposedly coordinated by a grandly named Commission on Peace and Stability. The commission didn't last long; there was no peace, no stability.

But the plan was a political winner for the Indonesian military. Its only real objective was to keep the international community at bay until there was very little left of East Timor to give up.

This time, it is a new Jakarta, under a new president. Yet it is the same old plan. And a military that still does not honor its government's commitments.

The political stakes are just as high, arguably higher than the first time around.

If this doesn't work, then United States sanctions are an apparent certainty. These could spell serious trouble for the already unsteady President Wahid. The threatened severing of international loans would exacerbate his country's economic problems to the point where his leadership becomes untenable.

The problem many diplomatic observers see is that it is not Mr Wahid who is pulling the strings on West Timor, but the military and the rump of Suharto supporters who want to undermine him and halt the country's move towards democracy.

The latest commitments to the Security Council were delivered with great fanfare by Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a former general now chief Politics Minister.

What the Indonesians did not trumpet, however, was that Mr Yudhoyono also briefed a powerful group known as the non-aligned countries, a caucus of UN members that includes several Muslim countries which reached out to Indonesia during the West's attacks over Timor.

It was no coincidence that the Security Council member representative who spoke most spiritedly in Indonesia's defence was Malaysia - the effective head of the non-aligned group.

Could it be that Mr Yudhoyono was telling the council one thing, and Indonesia's powerful allies another?

The next few months in Timor will tell.

As that "baseball guy" also said: "You can observe a lot by watching."

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