|Subject: IPS: Whatever the Vote in E.Timor, Violence
Date: Fri, 02 Apr 1999 08:03:35 -0500
From: "John M. Miller" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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*Whatever the Vote in East Timor, Violence a Problem
By Samsudin Berlian
JAKARTA, Apr 2 (IPS) - The question of East Timor is no longer just whether it should choose to be independent or have ''wide autonomy'' within Indonesia -- but how to prevent the territory from falling into chaos and bloodshed after it decides in the next few months.
That, at least, was the picture that emerged from a seminar organised here this week by Solidamor, a non-governmental organisation committed to finding a peaceful solution to the more than two-decade old conflict in East Timor.
For different reasons, opposing camps in the East Timor debate voiced fears that bloody clashes would happen in the next few months, despite all the goodwill in ongoing efforts toward a political solution under United Nations mediation.
Pro-independence advocates claim that the Indonesia government was arming pro-integration groups terrorising and killing people in East Timor.
Pro-integration leaders claim they need to arm themselves because the ''people in the jungles'' -- referring to the Fretilin, the resistance's armed fighters -- are terrorising and killing them.
At this week's conference here, both did not hesitate to give examples, even from their own personal experiences, about the other camp's supposed atrocities.
Xanana Gusmao, the jailed president of the National Council of East Timor Resistance (CNRT), believes that the portrayal of violence as inevitable in the territory is an Indonesian strategy.
In a statement read by an East Timor student leader at the Solidamor meeting, he said Indonesia's offer was in fact not a too subtly veiled threat to choose between wide autonomy and ''wide'' bloodshed.
He argued that the Indonesian government, which has time and again said independence would plunge East Timor into civil war, was willing to prove this point no matter what.
''It is interesting that since the military invasion and annexation from 1975 to September last year, the pro-integration people never felt threatened by the civilian people,'' Xanana said.
''But starting from last October, suddenly the pro-integration people felt threatened so that ABRI (the Indonesian armed forces) promptly armed militias to intimidate and kill the civilians,'' he added.
But Dino Patti Djalal, an Indonesian diplomat, defended Jakarta's offer as the best choice for East Timor.
He echoed the words of Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas who calls autonomy ''the most realistic, the most viable, with the most peaceful prospect, and a fair compromise between full integration and independence''.
Although the term ''wide autonomy'' is not yet officially defined, Djalal said it would mean freedom in everything except diplomacy, external defence, and monetary affairs.
Since external defence in practice would mean ABRI -- most known not for countering external threats but its efficiency in fighting internal conflict, many questions were raised about armed forces' role under autonomy.
Djalal said the autonomy package under study would clearly state that ABRI, unlike in other provinces, would not interfere in East Timor's internal security matters.
He said that he believed, ''not only politically, but with his conscience'', that autonomy would bring to East Timor freedom, reconciliation, peace, and prosperity.
Despite the gulf in beliefs, both pro-independence and pro- integration camps say they it is important to let the people of East Timor choose their own future.
But they disagree on the means for learning the people's decision.
The pro-independence camp prefers a ''one man one vote'' system as the most democratic instrument. But the pro-integration camp is steadfast in its claim that the East Timorese are not ready for this type of voting, that it would lead to violence, and is thus unacceptable.
Yet Ana Gomez, Portugal's envoy in Jakarta, challenged the pro-integration view thus: ''If the East Timorese are good enough to vote in Indonesian elections, as they have done before, why are they not good enough to vote for their own?''
Solidamor has proposed the establishment of an independent international monitoring group to watch the ''direct ballot'' to be conducted by the United Nations, likely to be held in July or August.
Then there is the question of the Indonesian government's word.
Former East Timor governor Mario Viegas Carrascalao -- without abandoning his pro-integration position altogether -- bitterly claimed that based on his experience, he expected Indonesia to not respect an agreement on autonomy just like it ''never respected'' any written rules, international or domestic.
He claimed he had not been able to do his job as governor properly because there was always unwritten intervention from Jakarta.
If the East Timorese voted today, Carrascalao says they would choose independence because they emotionally linked all the bad things happening in their homeland with Indonesia. ''They may regret it later, but right now that is how they feel,'' he said in an interview.
Djalal himself asks some difficult questions in confronting the subject of East Timor.
First, he said, how could the East Timorese expect freedom, reconciliation, peace, and prosperity from a country like Indonesia, which has failed to provide those things for its own people?
Second, how could a country that could neither prevent nor solve problems of bloody class, ethnic and religious clashes among its own communities, prevent or solve a political clash in East Timor?
The government of President Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie is due to finalise its autonomy offer in April. Intensive talks involving Indonesia and Portugal, with the UN, have been underway since Indonesia in June 1998 offered special autonomy status to East Timor.
In March, Jakarta said it would let East Timor become independent if it refused the government's autonomy offer, paving the way for agreement at the UN for a direct ballot to determine the island's sentiments.
The outcome of that vote should be clear by August, so the Indonesian president can propose a recommendation later that month to a newly elected People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), the country's highest political body.
The MPR would make the final decision on the status of East Timor. (END/IPS/ap-ip-hd/sb/js/99)