Subject: BBC: Andrews on E Timor
Date: Sat, 22 May 1999 10:30:04 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <fbp@igc.apc.org>

BBC Web Site Friday, May 21, 1999 Published at 09:43 GMT 10:43 UK World: Asia-Pacific

Viewpoint: East Timor's path to peace

Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr David Andrews T.D. recently returned from Dili, the capital of East Timor where he was involved in discussions with military and civilian leaders.

Here he gives BBC News Online his thoughts on the situation there and explains how the experience in Northern Ireland gives Ireland a special role in monitoring the efforts to bring peace to the territory.

My visit on 17 April to Dili, the capital of East Timor, gave me the opportunity to see at first hand the sufferings of the Timorese people and the frightening conditions under which they are forced to live.

During my short stay there, innocent civilians were being murdered and property being destroyed within a short distance of where I was having discussions with the leading military and civilian leadership.

Rampaging gunmen were given a free hand to terrorise the citizens while the Indonesian authorities simply turned a blind eye.

It was clear to me that there are groups in East Timor who are being supported by elements within the military.

'Historic agreement'

These groups are intent on derailing the peace process that has been put in place as a result of talks which culminated in the signing of the historic agreement between Portugal and Indonesia in New York on 5 May.

I believe it is essential now that action be taken quickly if further deaths are to be avoided in the territory.

It seems to me that the best means of achieving this end would be the establishment of a UN presence on the ground in Dili as soon as possible.

I am happy to see that the New York agreement takes account of this point - at least to some extent - and I would hope that UN officials and a UN police contingent will become operational in East Timor before too long.

Free and fair vote

Of course, the crucial element in the New York agreement is that if implemented freely and fairly, it will finally give the people of East Timor the opportunity to exercise their right to self-determination in accordance with the terms of the UN Charter and the relevant UN resolutions.

I can only hope that the Timorese people will in fact be able to vote in an open, free and democratic manner so that their will can be clearly known. It will be the duty of all of us, as democrats, to respect the people's decision - whatever it may be.

I am most anxious that the international community - and the EU in particular - should take a direct interest in this issue. We must do whatever we can to assist the Timorese people at this crucial time.

They have suffered greatly over a very long period of time. We must now make every effort to bring their suffering to an end, and give them the opportunities which they have been denied for so long.

Ireland's contribution

I would hope that we in Ireland can play our role in assisting the people of East Timor in whatever way we can.

We are aware of the need for police officers and election monitors as well as for financial contributions to the UN Trust Fund.

We recognise also that there will be a great need for development assistance as soon as the lives of the East Timorese can return to normal.

Irish Aid has already committed itself to a small conflict resolution/mediation project, which should commence in the near future.

Our own experience in Northern Ireland has shown us the vital importance of healing community divisions before they are allowed to deteriorate into violence.

We have seen there the dangers that can arise if one section of society is allowed to have uncontrolled dominance over another.

Hopes for democracy

I believe very deeply accordingly that the new East Timor must be an inclusive, not an exclusive, society.

Even the murderous militia groups must not feel excluded from the new society that will have to be created there.

Perhaps the proposed Irish mediation project - and other Irish assistance that may follow - can help the Timorese to avoid some of the tragic events which we have experienced ourselves in Ireland.

In conclusion, I can only offer my most sincere good wishes to the people of East Timor in the democratic decisions which they must take in the near future.

I call upon the international community to ensure that these decisions can be taken in a free and peaceful manner and that the assistance which the Timorese people need in order to exercise their right to self-determination will not be denied them.

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