|Subject: WP/IHT: 3d Timor Attack Raises UN Stakes
Date: Sat, 10 Jul 1999 16:47:15 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Received from Joyo Indonesian News:
International Herald Tribune and Washington Post Tuesday, July 6, 1999
3d Timor Attack Raises UN Stakes
By Keith B. Richburg Washington Post Service
JAKARTA - The United Nations mission in East Timor has withdrawn its staff from a third Timorese town after another violent militia attack on a UN-escorted aid convoy - the third such incident in the past week - has raised questions about the viability of the UN operation and the Indonesian government's guarantees of security for diplomats in the troubled territory.
At least three people were injured in the attack Sunday, on the eastern edge of Liquica, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of the capital, Dili. As many as five people are still missing, and an Indonesian Foreign Ministry official said they could have fled or might be in hiding.
Pro-Indonesian militiamen armed with machetes and homemade rifles attacked a humanitarian aid convoy taking relief supplies to displaced people in Liquica, then later attacked a UN helicopter that flew in to evacuate the wounded.
UN vehicles were among those in the convoy, which included a humanitarian affairs officer and a representative from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Diplomats described the incident as the most serious yet in a string of violent attacks by the military-backed militias, who are trying to disrupt a planned August vote that could bring independence to the territory. This incident, they said, suggests that the recent attacks are part of a pattern aimed at sabotaging the UN operation and forcing a delay or outright cancellation of the August vote.
Ian Martin, the head of the UN mission, said Monday that the failure of the Indonesian police to provide protection for the aid convoy, despite repeated requests, showed ''an inexcusable lack of action.''
''Whether this is a failure of will or competence, I am not going to say,'' he added.
Privately, diplomats said the latest incident severely raised the stakes in the militia groups' apparent plan to intimidate the UN staff and prevent a free vote on independence. ''This is extremely serious,'' said a Western diplomat in Jakarta who closely follows developments in Timor. ''This is a crucial test for the UN and for all of us.''
This diplomat said that the UN, faced with direct threats against its staff and the failure of the Indonesians to provide protection against the gun-wielding militias, would now prompt the international community to take sterner actions. This could include renegotiating the existing agreement to allow for a larger UN force in Timor that would be authorized to carry firearms, or, in an extreme case, using international economic aid to Indonesia as leverage to force the military to disarm the militias and stop the campaign of terror and intimidation.
''There are several options,'' the diplomat said, calling the latest incident an ''outrageous'' attempt to thwart the will of the international community.
In Australia, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the Indonesian government must provide security against ''hoodlums and thugs with a lot of rocks and homemade weapons.''
Officials with the Indonesian Foreign Ministry, who in the past have been reluctant to assign blame to the militia groups or openly criticize them, seemed caught off-guard by the brazenness of the attack Sunday.
Dino Djalal, the Foreign Ministry official assigned to Timor to prepare for the referendum, said by telephone: ''Any attack on the UN, or UN vehicles, is of concern to the government. They must be assured of a safe and secure environment.'' He said the government was still investigating various versions of exactly what happened in Liquica, because ''there's a lot of stories we need to cross-check.''
The Foreign Ministry spokesman in Jakarta, Sulaiman Abdulmanan, tried to play down the attack, as he has with the other recent incidents. ''One has to look at the situation in a wider picture,'' he said. ''We can't blow one or two incidents out of proportion.''
The convoy was organized by a well-known pro-independence figure in Timor - a fact that apparently led the police to refuse to provide an escort. To escort the convoy would have compromised their ''neutrality,'' according to one report, although a diplomat said, ''This is a strange definition of neutrality.''