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Asia: Violence In East Timor Constitutes Threat To U.S. Interests

  • Frank Csongos



The United States has urged Indonesia to restore law and order in East Timor and to accept the will of the people who voted for independence in a recent referendum. Both State Department and White House spokesmen commented at their daily news briefings Tuesday on how the U.S. views the current situation there as violence continues in the territory.

Washington, 8 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The United States says its national interest is affected by instability and violence in East Timor, calling on Indonesia to restore law and order in the territory and accept the wishes of the people who recently voted for independence.

State Department spokesman James Rubin said at a briefing Tuesday the U.S. has a pivotal interest in the region involving international shipping on the high seas.

Rubin said: "I think our national interest is affected by the instability in East Timor. In the broadest sense, Indonesia is a country that is a place where the United States has (a) significant interest, given the sea lanes and a number of other factors that affect international commerce through that part of the world. To the extent that East Timor affects the stability of Indonesia, it therefore affects those sea lanes."

Rubin said the other area of concern is human rights.

He said: "There is a clear human rights component here where people who are aspiring to their freedom are being killed for that aspiration, and that is something that matters to the United States. So we have interests, we have a human rights interest, and we have a national interest in the sea lanes in Indonesia. Whether that interest yields that policy is a different question." The State Department spokesman said Indonesia cannot continue to conduct business as usual with the international community while chaos and violence are plaguing East Timor.

Rubin said: "Well, I don't want to be more specific than to say that productive relations between Indonesia and the international community, including the IMF (International Monetary Fund), depend on Indonesia adopting a constructive approach toward ending the humanitarian disaster in East Timor and supporting the UN-administered process by which East Timor will become independent. Obviously the relations with the international community are affected."

The IMF provided crucially needed aid to Indonesia during its economic crisis last year.

Rubin declined to say whether the United States, a key member of the IMF as well as of its sister organization, the World Bank, would try to prevent disbursing aid to Indonesia unless it cracks down on pro-Jakarta militia that has been terrorizing the East Timor population.

He summed up the U.S. position this way.

"It is in Indonesia's interest to have productive relations with the international community. I think that's clear. The Indonesian president has made that clear. And it's not possible to have productive relations with the international community with this crisis getting worse and worse. That is a reality, a fact of life. As to what decisions we would make on any specific IMF loan, they are primarily based on financial criteria, and so I don't want to speculate beyond that." Rubin also rejected any comparison between East Timor and Kosovo.

Yugoslavia was bombed by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for 11 weeks in an effort to stop Belgrade's repression of ethnic Albanians. NATO-led peacekeepers have been overseeing Kosovo, a Yugoslav province following the end of the air campaign.

Rubin said East Timor and Kosovo "are not the same. They're not in the same part of the world and they don't have the same objective situations."

At the White House, spokesman Joe Lockhart said the United States has not yet decided whether to participate in a possible armed international peacekeeping force in East Timor. He said that the United States preferred to wait for the results of a high-level mission sent by the UN Security Council to the region.

Lockhart said Washington wants to see security re-established for East Timor and the result of the referendum respected.

Lockhart said: "The important thing now is the Indonesian government getting control of the situation and restoring a secure environment and accepting the wishes of the people there, which they've agreed to do."



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