|1 September 1999
Call for Vigilance in East Timor Ahead of Consultation Results
Aitarak militia leader Eurico Guterres believes he determines who can leave Dili by land, air or sea. No one is stopping him. In the past 48 hours, UN staffers have been killed, abducted and threatened by militias throughout East Timor. In a well-orchestrated maneuver, paramilitaries sent a dramatic message to the international community when they surrounded and shot up the polling station where U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Stapleton Roy was observing the vote. Two UN staffers were injured in that attack, once again demonstrating Indonesia's lack of respect for any outside authority, as well as non-compliance with the May 5 UN agreement. Militias have waged a war of terror against the people of East Timor.
Prior to this escalating violence, more than 98% percent of East Timor's registered voters courageously risked their lives to participate in the unprecedented historical event-- the long-awaited referendum in East Timor. After 24 years of brutal occupation, few doubt that so many risked so much for anything short of independence. Clearly, the vote could not have taken place without broad cooperation among Indonesian government, security forces and the militias, nor without UN supervision and international observation, proving that given the political will, major crises can be averted. Beyond Secretary General Kofi Annan and the UN Assistance Mission in East Timor, those contributing to this surprising success include President Clinton and other U.S. leaders, the heads of state of various other nations, as well as independent observer projects like the International Federation for East Timor and the Carter Center, and activists from around the world.
But, there are many hurdles left to overcome, not the least of which is the security situation during the critical period around the announcement of the result of the consultation, expected within a few days. The U.S. government played a pivotal role in ensuring a peaceful vote, and it must persist in its efforts. The inevitability of financial and political consequences if Indonesia allows violence to continue unchecked must be clearly communicated to leaders in Jakarta.
This moment presents an historic opportunity for Indonesia to prove to the world its commitment to democracy and human rights. A peaceful transfer of power in East Timor could represent a significant step in Indonesia's transition from military dictatorship to one of the world's largest democracies. To the extent that Indonesia expedites a smooth and peaceful process for East Timor, their international status will be enhanced and obstructions to further aid could be dissolved.
However, continuation of the current security situation threatens to undermine all that has been accomplished thus far. It is intolerable that paramilitaries operate unrestrained, when they should have been disarmed and disbanded months before the vote. Now that the process has come so far, it would be disastrous to see it collapse for lack of sufficient international resolve. Governments and individuals must continue to exert their influence on Indonesia to assure that: all paramilitaries are contained, disarmed and disbanded immediately; political prisoners are released; and Indonesian troops are withdrawn in a peaceful and orderly manner. Full support should also be afforded to the UN mission, to increase its numbers and expand its mandate during the transition. A demonstration of our respect for the exceptional perseverance and courage exhibited by the people of East Timor requires no less.
1 September 1999
East Timor Action Network 110 Maryland Avenue NE #30 Washington, DC 20002 202-544-6911; 202-546-5103 (fax) email@example.com, www.etan.org