UN betrays East Timor


Green Left Weekly spoke to JON LAND, a member of ASIET (Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor) who has recently returned from East Timor, about the United Nations agreement on East Timor.

Question: What does the UN agreement contain?

The UN plan for the vote on autonomy, to be held on August 8, was formally ratified with the signing of documents at the UN offices in New York on May 5. Details on how the vote will be conducted, on the provision of security and on the conditions required for the vote to be considered fair and free have been released. It is expected that further documents relating to the plan will be released over the next few weeks.

In its introduction, the "Agreement between the Republic of Indonesia and the Portuguese Republic on the Question of East Timor" cites the main UN decolonisation resolutions and Security Council and General Assembly resolutions on East Timor.

It calls for a direct, secret and universal ballot of East Timorese, both inside and outside East Timor, on the Indonesian government's offer of "special autonomy". If the majority of East Timorese accept autonomy, Indonesia pledges to make the changes necessary to implement it, and Portugal will take steps to remove East Timor from the UN agenda.

If the autonomy offer is rejected, Indonesia will "take the constitutional steps necessary to terminate its links with East Timor" and a "peaceful and orderly transfer" to UN authority will take place. A "process of transition to independence" will then begin under the auspices of the UN secretary-general.

The ballot questions state that rejecting autonomy will lead "to East Timor's separation from Indonesia". Those allowed to vote are people 17 years and older who were born in East Timor, or born outside with at least one parent born in East Timor, and people whose spouses fall in either of these two categories. Polling and registration points will be established in East Timor, Indonesia, Australia, Macau, Portugal, Maputo and New York.

Question: What provision does the agreement make for security before and during the ballot?

The size and make-up of the UN contingent have yet to be finalised. Reports on the number of personnel range from 650 to 900, including a police contingent ranging in size from 50 to 350.

The security agreement is the weakest part of the plan. It is deplorable. It reiterates Indonesia's responsibility to maintain law and order, but there are no provisions at all for the Indonesian government to disarm the pro-integration terrorist gangs or withdraw Indonesian troops from East Timor.

The day before the agreement was ratified, the Indonesian government refused to include a clause calling for the scaling down of troop numbers from the moment the agreement was finalised.

The security agreement calls for the "absolute neutrality" of the military and police. Indonesian authorities will be solely responsible for law and order, with the UN providing civilian police as "advisers". The fake Commission on Peace and Stability (established by the Habibie regime on April 21) will develop a "code of conduct" for the campaign in consultation with the UN.

The "absolute neutrality" of the Indonesian military is a ridiculous notion. An article in the May 8 Sydney Morning Herald by George Aditjondro, an Indonesian specialist on East Timor, details the significant involvement of Indonesian military figures in the economy of East Timor, the extensive economic interests in East Timor of the Suharto family and prominent pro-integration leaders. These interests are threatened by an independent East Timor.

Leaving security arrangements in the hands of the Habibie regime must be resolutely condemned. The presence of Indonesian soldiers and police, and the terrorist gangs supported by them, will mean ongoing intimidation, undoubtedly leading to a distortion of the vote.

If the situation in East Timor remains "unstable", the Habibie regime is more likely to increase the number of soldiers in East Timor, as it has done in response to the crisis in Aceh.

Question: Are there other problems with the UN agreement?

Yes. The agreement does not call for the release of Xanana Gusmao and other East Timorese political prisoners. There is no mention of how he and other legitimate representatives of the East Timorese people will be involved in negotiations following the vote.

According to the conditions of the agreement, no Indonesian government funds, resources or offices can be used to finance or build support for maintaining East Timor as part of Indonesia. Yet research by Aditjondro reveals that some 6 billion rupiah have already been allocated by the Jakarta-appointed governor of East Timor for "socialising of the autonomy package". There have been no criticisms or actions to halt this.

Furthermore, the humanitarian situation for refugees in East Timor remains atrocious. In Liquica district, the situation of those who have fled the pro-integration terror is especially worrying: up to 20,000 East Timorese refugees are living in concentration camp conditions.

A massive relief effort for these people is urgently needed, yet there is no indication that the Indonesian authorities are acting to improve the conditions of the refugees.

Question: What is the attitude of East Timorese towards the UN?

The overwhelming majority of East Timorese want independence. When talking with East Timorese in Dili about what was necessary to end the violence and repression in their country, I was repeatedly told that there needed to be some type of international presence in the form of UN monitors or peacekeepers, or some other body or team of international observers. It was a desperate plea.

There were considerable illusions in what the UN could or would do, but these were tempered by considerable scepticism and cynicism. Many people recognised that the UN and Western powers — the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and others — have betrayed East Timor many times over.

I'm sure this attitude has hardened in the minds of those who have been directly affected by the repression of the last few months, particularly on hearing the news that, under the UN agreement, "security" will be provided by the Indonesian military and police.

For many activists I met, the call for an international presence was a recognition that in the current circumstances it is virtually impossible for the East Timorese resistance to be active openly, to organise such things as large, peaceful pro-independence rallies.

The key question for the resistance remains how to get the Indonesian military to start withdrawing from East Timor and the pro-integration terrorist groups to disarm immediately. The UN agreement is an obstacle to these goals.

Question: What should be the response of the solidarity movement to the UN agreement?

This UN-brokered agreement is a rotten plan, which must be condemned. ASIET will continue to demand that the UN abide by previous resolutions passed by the Security Council and General Assembly which call for the immediate withdrawal of Indonesian forces from East Timor and a fair and free vote on self-determination.

The Indonesian military and police cannot be trusted to ensure that there is sufficient peace and stability in East Timor for the August vote. Their role, time and time again within East Timor, Aceh, West Papua and throughout Indonesia, has been to suppress freedom and democracy.

The Indonesian military is a self-perpetuating clique, interested only in protecting its political power and maintaining the material interests and wealth that this power ensures.

Fair and free conditions for the vote in East Timor can occur only when the Indonesian military has withdrawn and the pro-integration terror gangs have been disarmed. The continued presence of the Indonesian military will only entrench the pro-integration groups and terrorist gangs.

The longer these gangs exist, the more distorted the vote will be and the more recognition the pro-integration gangs will have as legitimate and "acceptable" political players in East Timor. They do not deserve this status; they would not exist without the backing of the Indonesian regime.

Under these circumstances, it is vital that we increase our solidarity with the independence struggle. We need to increase our support for those struggling for democracy in Indonesia, in particular with the People's Democratic Party, which has been the most active and consistent advocate of self-determination for East Timor.

Question: What should we be demanding of the Australian government?

We should place maximum pressure on the Howard government to end Australia's recognition of Indonesian sovereignty over East Timor. And we must demand an end to all military ties with the Habibie regime.

Figures released by the Coalition's minister of defence, John Moore, in response to a question on notice from Australian Greens Senator Bob Brown show that federal government spending on "cooperation" with Indonesia's armed forces has risen from $225,000 in 1989-90 to a record $6,446,000 in the current financial year. This is completely unjustifiable while the killings and human rights abuses carried out by the Indonesian military continue in East Timor, Aceh and elsewhere.

The government's efforts to have 1500 East Timorese asylum seekers deported from Australia must also be blocked. The disgusting attempts to deny the East Timorese asylum seekers their democratic rights is part of the government's broader racist attack on the rights of all migrants and refugees.

Only last week, immigration minister Philip Ruddock threatened that any East Timorese who flee to Australia seeking asylum could be deported to Indonesia. When asked about the refugee crisis within East Timor by Melbourne radio station 3AW, Howard said: "The best shot we can give the East Timorese is to continue to use our influence to persuade the Indonesian government to deliver a fair and

open ballot".

To win our demands will require a concerted solidarity campaign involving students, workers, the unemployed and as broad a range of church, solidarity and community organisations as possible. There are promising signs that trade unions will initiate actions in support of the East Timorese people. We need to ensure that this campaign publicly and actively mobilises the large number of people in Australia who support freedom for East Timor.