Accessibility links

Western Press Review: Who's Responsible For East Timor's Bloodbath?

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 6 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Much Western press commentary today and over the weekend focuses on the eruption of murderous violence in the wake of the people of East Timor opting overwhelmingly for independence in a United Nations-run referendum a week ago. Editorial writers and analysts search for the causes of the violence that has claimed well over 100 lives since the vote. Many put the blame on Indonesia, and particularly on its army, which they believe has governed East Timor with extraordinary brutality for almost a quarter of a century.

TIMES: The militias intend to make East Timor ungovernable

The Times of London today says that the aim of the pro-Jakarta militias responsible for much of the violence in East Timor is "transparent." The paper writes in an editorial: "The [militias] intend to make East Timor ungovernable, and are doing so with the active collusion of the territory's present rulers. Whatever the promises made by [Indonesian] President Habibie in faraway Jakarta to respect the referendum result, Indonesia's troops on the ground have no intention of doing so."

The editorial goes on: "The UN has accused the Army of doing nothing to prevent the bloodshed. That is an understatement; the Army has armed, encouraged and protected the militias. Those officers based in East Timor have carried out repression for years, and have no intention now of relinquishing power."

The paper believes that other countries should intervene in the crisis: "Australia, [has] indicated that it is ready to send in a protection force. New Zealand would probably join suit, as would several other Asian nations should such a mission gain swift UN approval." And, The Times concludes, "there is plenty...that Britain and its [European Union] partners can do. Indonesia is still dependent on Western emergency aid to save it from the worst of its financial mismanagement. The price of such aid must be made perfectly clear to Indonesia and its Army."

WASHINGTON POST: Voters' courage and determination should not be betrayed

In a weekend editorial (Sept. 4), the Washington Post also strongly criticized the Indonesian military. The Paper wrote: "[The] militias were created and encouraged by Indonesia's military, eager for a proxy to fight against East Timor's separation. But Indonesia's international reputation now depends on its willingness to use its armed forces to disarm those militias, restore peace to East Timor and allow -- finally -- the people of that island to chart their own destiny."

The WP went on: "Indonesia is in the midst of a transition of its own, from decades of dictatorship to, it is hoped, real democracy. The success of that transition, in one of the world's most populous nations, is of immense importance; Indonesia merits all the help it can get."

But, the paper continued, "President Clinton, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and everyone else with some influence must make clear that Indonesia can get no help if it allows East Timor to go up in flames. An astonishing 98.6 percent of eligible voters in East Timor risked their lives to vote. Their courage and determination should not be betrayed."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Indonesia has broken its international commitments

In Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, a commentary by Andreas Baenziger is no less critical on Indonesians and generals. Writing from Singapore, Baenziger says: "Indonesia has broken its international commitments, jeopardizing the democratic vote on the future of East Timor to which an overwhelming turnout has lent a high degree of credibility."

Baenziger goes on: "The Indonesian armed forces have armed and are backing pro-Indonesian militias who are terrorizing the general public. Early last week they looked on as people were hacked to pieces as television cameras rolled, as UN aides were threatened and as journalists were beaten up." For 30 years, he adds, "Indonesian security forces breached human rights with impunity, enriched themselves with impunity and ... oppressed the people of East Timor, shedding blood if required ..."

He concludes: "Talking tough to Indonesian President B. J. Habibie and Defense Minister Wiranto are no longer enough. The two men are clearly no longer in control of their commanders on the spot. What is needed is a UN force, but it would take too long to set one up now. It ought long since to have been in East Timor."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: East Timorese will need substantial commitments of foreign aid

The International Herald Tribune today carries two commentaries on East Timor. The first, by Australia-based analyst Alan Dupont, expresses some optimism over what he calls the successful independence referendum held last week. Dupont writes that the vote has paved "the way for a final resolution of one of Asia's most intractable and long-running conflicts."

"But," he continues, "it would be a mistake to believe that East Timor's transition to independence is a fait accompli. The ballot was merely a first step along a track still littered with obstacles that could derail the peace train." He believes that "the sooner Jakarta hands over responsibility for security to a UN peacekeeping force, the better... [That] force will probably have to remain in East Timor for several years..."

Dupont goes on to say: "Peacekeepers can keep the peace, but they cannot build a nation. To do this, the East Timorese will need substantial commitments of foreign aid and investment. East Timor's current budgetary requirements suggest that about $100 million to $150 million a year for at least the next five years will be needed....Without substantial and ongoing international aid," he concludes, "the fruit of freedom may soon wither on the vine."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: It is now Indonesia's turn

The IHT's second commentary on East Timor, by U.S. analyst Donald Emmerson, also praises the UN-run referendum and the many East Timorese who braved intimidation to take part in the vote. He then writes: "Now a new phase has begun; the implementation of independence against the wishes of the losing side and its Indonesian allies. ... Jakarta," he adds, "must now stop the bloodshed and rescue its already damaged international standing."

The writer, who was in East Timor to monitor last Monday's referendum, says the experience convinced him "that Jakarta is not meeting its obligations under the agreement it signed May 4 with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. ... Had Jakarta fulfilled its security operations, the police would have disarmed [the armed militia] gangs months ago."

He continues: "If the Indonesian government cannot be relied upon to make even a good faith effort to suppress the militias..., how can it expect to be trusted by foreign governments on other matters?" Emmerson concludes: "Jakarta might instead be [seen] as complicit and hypocritical for having failed to... stop the violence. East Timor has chosen. It is [now] Indonesia's turn."

TRIBUNE DE GENEVE: The UN remains an authority without the force to assure a transition

In Switzerland's Tribune de Geneve a signed editorial by Antoine Maurice says that it is the Indonesian state that is responsible for the recent bloodshed. He writes: "The state rather than the government, insofar as this country, struck by a serious governmental crisis a year ago, is manifestly unable to assume its obligations regarding East Timor."

The editorial continues: "It's difficult today to say whether the government's actions reflect its duplicity or whether President Habibie is simply overwhelmed by his own military, which, in East Timor, openly makes common cause with the anti-independence militias."

Whatever the case, Maurice adds, "it is proving costly not only to the East Timorese but to the UN itself." He says that, despite the successful referendum, the UN remains "an authority without the force to assure a transition [to independence]. After Somalia, Rwanda, Angola and other situations where the UN has failed, East Timor promises another gaping gap in today's international order."

AFTENPOSTEN: The UN's credibility is also at stake

John Einar Sandvand comments in today's Norwegian daily Aftenposten: "There is little doubt that Indonesia has again misled the world regarding East Timor. Now both the East Timorese and UN representatives on the scene are singled out for violence and terror by armed bands. Tens of thousands have fled, and hundreds have been killed. All this is taking place while the numerous Indonesian military and police in East Timor are just looking on."

He continues: "A week ago, 78.5 percent of the people [of East Timor] voted for independence. Their historic decision is now being punished. And the UN has made a tragic mistake by trusting Indonesia's... declarations that it could, or had the intention to, protect the 800,000 inhabitants of the impoverished territory." Sandvand adds: "By breaking its promises, Indonesia has seriously damaged its reputation in the world. But the UN's credibility is also at stake. The UN has never accepted Indonesia's occupation of the territory, but East Timor has never stood high on the agenda of the international organization. Many allege that the UN has now gambled with many people's lives and security by refusing to send [to East Timor] an international armed peacekeeping force."

(Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to this report).