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Western Press Review: East Timor Solutions, Russian Quandaries

  • Joel Blocker



Prague, 10 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- With the United Nations having pulled all but a small contingent out of East Timor, Western press commentary remains largely fixed on the threat of large-scale massacres in the territory. Commentators discuss possible international intervention and what role the UN can now play. There is also some continuing comment on Russia's financial scandals and its difficulties dealing with Islamic populations near its borders.

NEW YORK TIMES: An international peacekeeping force will be needed to save lives

The New York Times says in an editorial today that "unless Jakarta can bring these [army-backed, anti-independence] militias to heel in the next few days, which is unlikely, an international peacekeeping force will be needed to save lives and make sure that the results of last week's referendum approving independence for the province is respected."

The paper acknowledges that "Indonesia's consent is needed for such a force to function smoothly." To attain such approval, it says, pressure from the U.S. and other foreign states will be needed. In any case, the editorial adds, "democracy can take root in Indonesia only if its armed forces defer to civilian authority and respect election results. In East Timor, Indonesia's army is doing neither."

The editorial concludes: "Indonesian democracy requires that the armed forces obey civilian authorities in Jakarta. East Timor's safety and freedom require that Jakarta agree to international peacekeepers. Washington [and other foreign capitals] should use every lever at [their] disposal to make sure that both requirements are quickly fulfilled."

TIMES: It makes sense to offer assistance to the Jakarta leadership rather than make threats

The Times of London, however, devotes its editorial, headed "Rein in the War Horses," to urging British officials not to get militarily involved in East Timor. The paper writes: "It is important for Britain not to run the risk of talking itself into commitments it cannot sustain. Thousands of British peacekeepers are already in Kosovo and Bosnia."

Britain, the paper adds, "cannot send in troops against Jakarta's wishes. This would represent war with the world's fourth largest nation." The paper argues that "East Timor's troubles are better resolved by negotiation, saying: "However much the visible agonies of East Timor have pushed foreign governments toward intervention, most recognize that President Habibie must be given some leeway to try to impose order."

The Times adds: "To stop Indonesia's fragile elite [from] fragmenting now, it makes sense to let its leaders seek to preserve what unity they can, and to continue to pitch any intervention that may become necessary as an offer of assistance to the Jakarta leadership rather than as a threat."

AFTENPOSTEN: The UN has looked the other way

In Norway, the daily Aftenposten writes in its editorial today: "While the violence and the murders spread in East Timor, the world is witnessing an increasingly impotent UN. ... The world is disgusted by the paramilitary militias, openly supported by the regular army, which have submerged East Timor in an orgy of violence where tens of thousands have fled and an unknown number of people have been killed. But the UN has looked the other way."

The editorial goes on: "To protect those who have sought refuge on UN premises in East Timor, Secretary-General Kofi Annan says that he will attempt to keep a smaller international force in the territory. This is a better option than withdrawing the whole of the international presence from East Timor, but [the decision] again underlines the UN's impotence." \

DIE WELT: This is a defeat but not a disgrace

Another view of the UN's role in the events in East Timor is provided today in a commentary by Nikolaus Blome in the German daily Die Welt. He asks: "Is the UN alone at the helm? Does it alone carry the responsibility because it made it possible to carry out a referendum on independence which was praised all over the world, while at the same time it remains unable to safeguard the clear-cut result from murdering militias under the tutelage of the army?"

"No," Blome answers, "it is not true that the UN has betrayed the people. But powerless and exposed, it has run up against the limits which others set for it a long time ago. This is a defeat but not a disgrace." He adds: "This dilemma is not new. But it has particularly troubled Secretary-General Annan, in what has become the UN's 'annus horribilis.' The organization has been frustrated three times in 12 months: in Iraq, in the Balkans and now in southeast Asia."

The commentary concludes: "Annan himself says, in his just published annual report, that states which create a domestic hell should be more often confronted with the threat of military action. That is very much in the spirit of the UN Charter; and it must not have any less validity than mere points of order."

MUENCHENER MERKUR: East Timor will show us just how empty the international community's promises were



Other German newspapers also comment on East Timor today. The Muenchener Merkur writes that "although it sounds cynical to say so, in the age of globalization, trade and good business are more important than human rights. That is especially so," the paper adds, "when dealing with countries and people who are on the periphery of world events, such as Tibet or South Africa, and now in a place called East Timor."

The editorial goes on: "In crises like these, thousands of people can lose their lives and a hundred thousand more suffer. The world looks on, affected deeply, but doesn't do anything. The people in East Timor have voted for independence from Indonesia, and because of this, they're now being terrorized by pro-Indonesian militia forces."

It concludes: "The kind of foreign policy that we saw in the recent Kosovo conflict was a firm statement by the international community that it would never again remain idle in the face of violence against innocent civilians. But maybe those were empty promises. East Timor will show us just how empty."

NORDKURIER: Now is not the time to hesitate

The Nordkurier, published in Neubrandenburg, notes that "peace is just now finally starting to really take hold again in Kosovo, but now the international community is faced with another hot spot -- this time in East Timor." The editorial goes on: "In the UN-sponsored referendum of last week, the people of East Timor voted loud and clear for independence, but now, marauding pro-Indonesian militias are trying their best to destroy this democratic effort. Now is not the time to hesitate to stop this, whether in New York or Jakarta or wherever policy is made."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: An intervention in East Timor would not be interference in Indonesia's internal affairs

And Stefan Ulrich writes in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung today that there is a major difference between the cases for UN intervention in Kosovo and East Timor. He writes: "Kosovo is a part of Yugoslavia; East Timor on the other hand does not, under international law, belong to Indonesia. ... An intervention in East Timor would therefore not be interference in Indonesia's internal affairs."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The only solution is international intervention

In an interview published today in the International Herald Tribune, the East Timorese independence leader and Nobel Prize laureate Jose Ramos Horta says that foreign intervention can save the territory. Here are some excerpts from his remarks:

"The killing [in East Timor] is a well-designed strategy prepared for a long time by the Indonesian Army Intelligence and Special Forces. They have their own agenda and it is simple: They are not prepared to relinquish East Timor, regardless of the vote in favor of independence."

"The only solution is international intervention. If the UN Security Council does not fulfill its obligations and call for armed intervention, then countries that have a conscience and resources --Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the Europeans-- should do it."

"A country that cannot honor its international obligations, because it cannot control its renegade army, does not exist from the standpoint of international law. The army has hijacked the legitimacy of Indonesian sovereignty. It is a false issue to argue that intervention by the outside world requires the approval of Jakarta."

WASHINGTON POST: We didn't have to watch so idly as supposed capitalists looted Russia's wealth

In a commentary for the Washington Post, David Ignatius takes on the nettlesome question of whether or not the Clinton administration could have curbed what he calls "the looting of Russia." Ignatius says that "privately some of the people who have been intimately involved in framing [the U.S.'s] Russian policy concede they'd like to do some things over again." Here is Ignatius' list of the U.S.'s three major misjudgments:

-"The Clinton Administration should have been warier about the short-term scheme the Russians adopted to finance their budget deficit. The U. S.-backed plan was to sell ruble-denominated bonds... But short-term financing schemes often come a cropper [and] a better way to finance the Russian deficit would have been more aggressive tax collection."

-"The Administration should have pushed harder to stop [Russian President Boris] Yeltsin's 'reformers' from embracing a 1996 privatization scheme known as 'loans for shares.' This corrupt deal allowed Russia's new business tycoons to acquire the crown jewels of the economy... in exchange for cheap loans to the government."

-'The Administration should have been more [publicly] honest... We didn't have to call Boris Yeltsin another Abraham Lincoln, as [President Bill] Clinton did. And we didn't have to watch so idly as supposed capitalists looted Russia's wealth"

COX NEWS SERVICE: Russians are more personally involved in battling Islam than the Americans

The U.S.'s Cox News Service today carries a commentary by columnist Howard Kleinberg that says bluntly, "Russians and Muslims Don't Seem to Mix." Kleinberg recalls: "When Afghanistan's Soviet-placed communist government faltered before Islamic ideals in 1979, the Soviets invaded. They got their noses bloodied by the opposition forces but spent a decade in Afghanistan before removing their last troops in 1989. Then came Chechnya, a breakaway Russian state, principally Muslim. Russian soldiers and bombs poured into the territory. Again, it was Russia against Muslims.'

"Now," Kleinberg continues, "the Russians are in combat with still more Muslims as they bog down, and embarrass themselves militarily, in Dagestan in southern Russia, unable to eradicate Islamic rebels who wish to create an Islamic state there." He says further: "When you add one and one, the answers comes out that the Russians are more personally involved in battling Islam than the Americans. One has to wonder how those Islamic states feel about their former sponsors [in Moscow]."

The commentary continues: "Russian influence has done nothing to buttress the continued isolation of Iraq; it has seen its Afghan puppet state lost to fanatical Taliban Muslims, it has suffered rebellion from two of its own semi-autonomous, Muslim-dominated regions... What [finally] is to be said about the Russians, whose only military clashes in the past two decades have been against Muslims?"

(Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to this report.)

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