Subject: IHT: Give ETimor's people their chance -- JRH
Date: Sat, 06 Mar 1999 08:44:43 -0500
From: ETISC <etio@ozemail.com.au>

Give East Timor's People Their Chance

By José Ramos-Horta International Herald Tribune, Opinion, March 4, 1999

SYDNEY - There is a historic opportunity to end the East Timor conflict, which has cost the lives of 200,000 East Timorese since Indonesia invaded and occupied the former Portuguese colony in 1975.

The government of President B.J. Habibie has said it is ready to end its rule if an autonomy offer is rejected. But factions of the Indonesian army, including elements loyal to former President Suharto, are determined to stay on, or wreck East Timor in revenge before they leave.

Instead of reducing the number of troops in the territory as urged by the UN Secretary-General, the United States, the European Union and Australia, Indonesia has increased its soldiers to well over 20,000.

A pattern of army-instigated religious and ethnic violence is emerging not only in East Timor but in many parts of Indonesia. Gangs of unemployed youths, criminals and drug addicts as well as Indonesian Muslim extremists, are armed by the authorities. Often directly supported by soldiers, they have launched murderous attacks against civilians.

The East Timorese resistance has exercised utmost restraint since Mr. Suharto was forced to resign in May by the rising tide of popular protest against his corrupt and repressive rule. But our patience is running out. We keep our options open as to our next course of action if the situation continues to deteriorate.

Indonesia should leave by January. The United Nations should take over administration of the territory for up to five years, and prepare it for statehood. We will hold a referendum on self-determination at the end of the agreed transition period.

Indonesian troops should leave as quickly as possible. Security of the territory should be placed in UN hands.

We have proposed an end to all armed activities in East Timor and called for a permanent UN presence to monitor the situation. A UN peacekeeping mission is a matter of utmost urgency.

The East Timorese resistance fighters should form the core of a new police force trained by countries like Australia and New Zealand. East Timorese serving in the Indonesian army and police could also be part of this new police force.

The small group of ''pro-Indonesia'' elements should not fear an independent East Timor. They will come to realize that in an independent nation they will be real citizens, not lackeys of another country.

There have been many patronizing comments about East Timor's supposed inability to govern itself. We have valuable natural resources, including arabica coffee, sandalwood, marble, fisheries, offshore oil and natural gas. But many of these resources became monopolies owned by the Suharto family and the generals who invaded East Timor. As a result, tens of millions of dollars have been looted from our people.

We are conscious of the difficulties and challenges facing an independent East Timor. They will not only be of economic and security nature. When Jakarta finally quits, it will leave behind a society profoundly traumatized by 23 years of savage colonization. It will also leave a culture of violence and corruption that was alien to East Timorese traditional society before 1975.

Portugal has said it is prepared to cover the entire budget of East Timor during the first years of independence. The Portuguese governor in Macau is ready to lead a business delegation from the enclave, China and Hong Kong to look into investment. Businesses from Singapore and Taiwan have expressed interest in economic opportunities.

East Timor will benefit from the Lomé Convention, which will give it tariff-free access to the huge European Union market. It could develop into a free trade area, with tourism as a major source of revenue.

The United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Nordic countries will be among the main donors and investors. Iceland has offered to assist East Timor in organizing its fishing industry. Two major Portuguese firms with interests in telecommunications and petroleum have indicated strong interest in investing more than $100 million

Indonesia will benefit as a supplier of goods to an independent East Timor - if it has the sense to look to the future.


The writer, vice president of the National Council of Timorese Resistance and a Nobel Peace laureate, contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.

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