Subject: SMH: Promises on East Timor fall victim to 'crisis syndrome'

Sydney Morning Herald April 26, 2001

Promises on East Timor fall victim to 'crisis syndrome'

By Mark Riley, Herald Correspondent in New York

The international focus that riveted onto East Timor during its struggle for independence has slowly drifted away, leaving a raft of unfulfilled commitments that threaten the territory's future, United Nations officials have warned.

Many countries that promised money, equipment and personnel to help rebuild the territory after the 1999 independence vote have since shifted their attention to new conflicts around the world, without making good on their pledges to East Timor.

Officials point to the territory's judicial system as the most obvious example of abandoned undertakings, as the UN struggles to find countries willing to supply judges and lawyers to run war crimes cases.

Although reluctant to criticise Australia because of its leading role in East Timor's rebuilding, the officials say the country is one of several that have rebuffed UN appeals for judges.

Australia believes it is already doing more than its share in East Timor and that other countries should take the lead in supporting the judicial system.

Australian officials have also told the UN the Federal Government is concerned that having Australian judges hear cases against accused Indonesian Army figures would jeopardise the country's slowly improving relationship with Indonesia.

The United States has told the UN it has higher foreign policy objectives than East Timor, which it views as an issue for regional allies such as Australia.

European diplomats say they are already over-committed to supporting war crimes tribunals on Kosovo and Rwanda and in helping fund peace efforts in continuing conflicts in Africa.

The revelations come just days after the leaking of a report from a former Australian diplomat, Mr James Dunn, accusing Indonesian generals of masterminding the wave of violence that tore through East Timor after the vote.

The report, written for UN investigators, recommended the establishment of an international tribunal to put the officers on trial unless Indonesia honours its commitment to take action itself.

The UN has attempted to distance itself from Mr Dunn's report, saying it should not be considered an official UN document.

"It is his own report and reflects his own views," said the UN's chief prosecutor in East Timor, Mr Mohamed Othman.

Diplomats say the shift of focus away from East Timor has left it the latest victim of a phenomenon known as the "crisis syndrome".

The term is used to describe the international community's capricious tendency to devote all its attention on a trouble spot at the height of a crisis, then abandon the country just as quickly as soon as the emergency has passed.

"The essence of effective diplomacy is to get as much done while the focus is there and then try as you might to maintain the interest for as long as possible," one diplomat said.

The UN Secretary-General, Mr Kofi Annan, voiced his frustration at the unfulfilled promises to East Timor this week in a report to the Security Council. He recommended that future peace operations set aside funding up front for the possibility of war crimes tribunals to avert the sort of problems being experienced in East Timor.

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