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UN has every legal right to intervene


11 September, 1999

YOU DESERVE especial commendation for your superb leading article (CT, September 7, p.8) on East Timor [Reproduced below]. And we are fortunate in Canberra to have Australia's leading cartoonist with his succinct and pungent penetrating comment.

Two things, however, puzzle me. One is your reference to legal difficulties for international intervention. There aren't any. As the Portuguese foreign minister pointed out on Lateline (September 7), East Timor is not a territory of Indonesia, and Indonesia has no legal rights in East Timor. Also, the UN does not recognise the Indonesian claim to East Timor, and has stated that its occupancy is in violation of the UN Charter (which Indonesia has ratified!).

The UN does have authority to enter a country to restore international peace and security, as it has already done in Kuwait and Kosovo. It's exactly like the Allies in 1943 sitting on the Dover cliffs awaiting Hitler's permission to land in France.

The other is your omission of Australia's debt of honour to the 50,000 (some reports give 70,000) Timorese tortured to death by the Japanese in 1943 for helping our Australian soldiers, who promised on leaving "If you ever need us, we will come''. And who, on arrival in Australia, said, "Without their support we wouldn't have got back to Australia. We owe them our lives.'' Why does everyone keep quiet about this? It concerns the honour of the Australian Army and Australia.



Canberra Times Editorial

Tuesday, 7 September, 1999

World can't wait for Indonesia

POLITENESS, and a sense of impotence, may constrain the Australian Government about being blunt about what is happening in East Timor. But it now seems clear that the atrocities taking place there involve the active complicity of the Indonesian army and police on the ground, almost certainly at the direction or with the connivance of senior elements in the army, with an at-the-least indifferent Government looking on. While Indonesia rejects responsibility and refuses to allow outside help, there are legal and practical difficulties about an international military intervention to stop the killing. But the time has passed for any diplomatic nicety about the need for this. Indeed, the international community must consider whether protecting the East Timorese should be done, if needs be, by engaging the militias, and, if needs be, any Indonesian troops supporting them. Every pressure, including a complete embargo of any financial assistance and trade, and investigations into crimes against international law by members of the Indonesian military, should be brought to bear on Indonesia in an effort to make those controlling the lawlessness stop. Indonesia has put its relationship with the international community on the line in this affair and it should be made clear that it has completely exhausted international patience and good will.

AUSTRALIA continues to have a primary role to play in the international response, not only because it is a neighbour, and has its own special obligations to the people of East Timor, but because its special relationship with Indonesia has given it some leverage. As the Prime Minister, Mr Howard, has insisted, Australia cannot act alone. It should now be made unequivocally clear to Indonesia that Australia will act in concert with other countries, even against the clearly expressed wishes of Indonesia, if its forces do not bring a stop to the killing and the terror.

The irony of matters reaching this point is of how much what is happening runs against the promises made by President Habibie of Indonesia. His was the intervention which was the critical factor in giving the people of East Timor an opportunity to choose independence, an outcome he acknowledged as possible. Since then, his army has been accused, and with plenty of evidence, of attempting to frustrate a vote.

But it failed. The rejection of the army's rule was overwhelming. It is amazing that the army should seek to mark the event with complete dishonour. The dishonour does not only come from its blind eye to militia atrocities, or its not-so-secret role in arming and directing them, but, increasingly, from evidence of its own involvement in the violence on the ground. Down the track, that dishonour may deprive it of the moral and political authority, or any international sympathy, in helping the Government defend unity in Aceh, Ambon, Irian Jaya or any number of areas in conflict with central government.

Some suggest the army inspired terror in East Timor represents an effective mutiny against civilian rule. If the international reaction against Indonesia serves to strengthen civilian authority, that might be the best thing which can be salvaged from the discreditable exercise.

THE people of East Timor cannot be expected to endure conditions of civil war for another two months while they wait for the Indonesian Parliament to ratify the result of their vote for freedom. They have already been badly let down by the international community. They turned out by the hundreds of thousands on polling day, in the expectation that they would be protected from retribution. Instead, they are now witnessing the evacuation of nonessential United Nations personnel and foreign journalists and the seeming abandonment of the population to the marauding militias, armed and incited by the people who are responsible for security the Indonesian police and military.

Reports of round-ups, and the busing and trucking of East Timorese are ominous. The militias and the military may believe that they have removed international witnesses. They should be made to understand that, to the contrary, they have never been more in the spotlight. And none, it should be clear, are more in the spotlight than those in authority whose inaction or indifference (if not, as is increasingly suggested, active connivance) is permitting the lawlessness of the thugs in the street. It is quite clear that there has been planning and coordination in the savagery, the killings and the terror. They will never be able to be swept under the carpet as the excesses of a few, nor as anything beyond the control of the Indonesians to stop.

The implications of East Timor for the UN are also profound. As Nobel peace-prize winner Jose Ramos Horta says, the UN's credibility is at stake.

A UN Security Council special mission will arrive in the Indonesian capital Jakarta within the next day or two, but there is no guarantee that it will receive anything but the same bland assurances of disinterest and sincerity which have been uttered so far.

The best hope of influence to date, sadly, seems to rest with the International Monetary Fund, which put together the $70 billion rescue package for Indonesia after the Asian economic meltdown last year. It was Indonesia's need to improve its reputation so as to get such help which led to the breakthrough earlier this year. This time, however, Indonesia should understand that the loss of such support will be merely a small part of a shunning of the nation by the international community. The UN and the international community kept its part of the bargain with Indonesia. Indonesia had its own duty. It said it would keep the peace. It did not. It has now surrendered any right to do so.

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