Vol. 5, No. 2
|Militia Attack Humanitarian Team in Liquiça||UN Update: Terror and Hope for the East Timorese
On May 5, 1999, Indonesia and Portugal signed an agreement for the United Nations to conduct a "popular consultation" on "special autonomy" for East Timor. Originally the vote was to be held on August 8, 1999 but because of horrific conditions on the ground it has been delayed for at least two weeks. If the ballot is a free and fair reflection of the wishes of the East Timorese people, it will end the long-standing violation of international law created by the Indonesian military's invasion and occupation.
For the first time, the people of East Timor will be able to decide their political status. Should the East Timorese people reject autonomy, the accord obligates Indonesia to take steps necessary to repeal its annexation of East Timor and to transfer authority over the territory to the United Nations. If the voters approve autonomy, Portugal and the UN will legally recognize East Timor as part of Indonesia.
Unfortunately, the Indonesian military and its paramilitary proxies are resistant to following the lead of Indonesian elites willing to let East Timor have its freedom. Indonesian police, who have been charged by the UN with providing security for the consultation process, have done little to rein in agents of military terror.
On June 22, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced that the UN was delaying East Timor's vote on its political future. In a report to the Security Council, Annan wrote that security concerns and logistical problems meant the vote would be delayed for at least two weeks. As Estafeta goes to press, the vote is scheduled for the weekend of August 21, though it could be delayed further.
While the UN presence has lead to a more peaceful environment in some areas of the territory, Annan reported to the Security Council that pro-Indonesia "militia activities continue to have a constricting effect on political freedom, silencing pro- independence activists and their supporters and forcing them into hiding, thus jeopardizing the necessary openness of the consultation process." He also pointed to the voting and registration problems created by large numbers of terrorized internal refugees and argued that a free and fair vote is not yet possible under current conditions. Annan therefore postponed the start of voter registration for three weeks, until July 16.
The UN Security Council agreed, declaring in a unanimous statement that militia violence was having "an intimidating influence over the local population." The council also expressed "grave concern" at a pro-Indonesian militia attack on a UN regional office in Maliana in July which injured one UN worker and up to twelve East Timorese. The council pointed out that the atmosphere of violence favored the anti-independence side, while public expression by pro-independence activities had been "severely limited."
Human Rights Watch reported that "local police made no effort to disperse the attackers, and there were reports of Indonesian army personnel among the militia members" during the Maliana violence. Indonesian Armed Forces chief General Wiranto commented: "If there are one or two incidents, that is normal...don't blow it out of proportion." A militia leader answered a reporter's query as to whether there would be more such attacks in Maliana by saying, "no, not unless they do something to make us angry."
But U.N. special envoy to East Timor Jamsheed Marker told reporters, "We are here to do a job, and we are not going to be chased away... we are not going to allow this to knock us off track."
Six more attacks on UN facilities and personnel have followed. Militias have made death threats against UN personnel, accusing them of pro- independence bias, and have called for the expulsion of UN representatives critical of militia actions.
Since Annan's delay announcement, the terror squads have also continued to threaten and attack pro-independence East Timorese.
Ian Martin, Chief of the UN Mission in East Timor (UNAMET), said militia attacks on UN representatives in the occupied territory exhibited a "disturbing pattern" and called police inaction to halt the attack on a humanitarian convoy (see story, p. 1) "inexcusable." He traveled to Jakarta to demand that Indonesia control the militias. Subsequently, General Wiranto and Foreign Minister Ali Alatas headed a delegation of 16 ministers and 15 senior officials on a one-day visit to Dili on July 12.
Pro-independence activists expressed understandable skepticism as to the sincerity of Alatas and company: East Timorese resistance leader Xanana Gusmão described the trip as "a simple public-relations exercise." Xanana also told The Australian newspaper that though Wiranto admitted privately his ability to put the militias out of business in two days, the General refuses to do so. (Falintil, the armed wing of the East Timorese resistance, has been observing an official cease fire for three months.)
After a one week delay in the beginning of East Timorese voter registration, on July 14 UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan wrote the President of the UN Security Council that "the security situation in the Territory as a whole remains serious, and there has not been time to assess properly how far recent steps taken by the Government will result in an improvement," but approved the start of registration. Halfway through the twenty day registration period Annan will judge whether "the people of East Timor are able to participate in the popular consultation safely and free of intimidation." At that point he will announce whether the process can move forward.
On July 15 the United Nations convened a new round of talks between Indonesian and Portuguese diplomats to plan the post-consultation future of East Timor. There is still no direct East Timorese participation in UN talks on their country.
As the newsletter goes to press, tens of thousands of East Timorese have registered to vote despite paramilitary intimidation at several sites and a militia attack in the southern subdistrict of Zumalai. But amongst many disturbing logistical concerns, how to assure safe and fair registration of the thousands of East Timorese internal refugees remains an especially daunting challenge for the UN and international observers.
International Federation for East Timor (IFET) Observer Project webpage: http://www.etan.org/ifet
United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) webpage: http://www.un.org/peace/etimor/etimor.htm
This site provides access to the daily UNAMET press briefing from Dili, UNAMET press releases, radio programs, civic education materials and official United Nations documents, as well as other materials of special interest. Information is posted in English, Bahasa Indonesia, Portuguese and Tetun.