Profs: Long-term costs of conflict are unclear
As the United Nations prepares to send an Australian-led peacekeeping force to East Timor, the independence of the Indonesian territory is still uncertain, and the long-term ramifications of the event are even more so, Notre Dame government professors said.
On Aug. 30, the East Timorese voted for independence from Indonesia in a U.N.-sponsored referendum. More than 78 percent of the voters chose independence. Since that time, militias have rampaged through East Timor forcing supporters of independence to flee their homes.
The militias, rumored to be supported by Indonesia's military, have attacked refugees and forced the U.N. to abandon their compound in East Timor's capital of Dili. Officials fear that more than 7,000 people are dead due to the violence.
The U.N. approved up to 8,000 peacekeeping troops to restore order on the island state. Australia and Malaysia will provide the majority of the peacekeepers.
Major-General Kiki Syohnakri, the Indonesian military commander in East Timor, said Indonesia will withdraw all of its troops once the U.N. force arrives.
Despite this, East Timor will not officially be independent until the Indonesian parliament votes to approve the secession.
Indonesia's diversity creates problems for its Jakarta-based government.
"They [Indonesia] are a very desperate nation, there are groups that don't want to be ruled by the government in Jakarta," said Andrew Reynolds, government professor. "Indonesians, I'm sure, are concerned now that if East Timor goes then these other areas in the country may be even more vociferous in trying to demand that they have autonomy as well."
Gen. Wiranto, the chief of the Indonesian armed forces, conceded on Sept. 11 that he had lost control of his troops in East Timor. If the rogue Indonesian forces in East Timor continue to support the militias, Indonesia may face severe consequences.
"There would be a direct contradiction to what the United Nations has set in motion and also what the population of the territory has expressed a preference for," said Robert Johansen, professor of government. "At that point, I think there would likely be increased diplomatic efforts including economic sanctions that would be far more severe. Certainly a military embargo that would be brought to bear against Indonesia."
The U.N.'s mission may include setting up an East Timorese democratic government once peace is restored, the experts said.
"I think a U.N. presence is a good idea and it's likely to be needed there for some time to come. First to establish some sort of public safety for the inhabitants and to allow the refugees to return," Johansen said. "But then, after, there needs to be a U.N. presence as the East Timorese gradually work to create a constitutional government."
Indonesia initially asked that Australia be left out of the peacekeeping force.
"They're [Indonesia] fairly unhappy about anybody coming in. They are particularly unhappy because the Australians are probably the most vociferously pro-East Timor independence," Reynolds said.
Australia stepped forward to lead the U.N. mission because it has opposed Indonesia's sovereignty over East Timor since it invaded the territory in 1975.
"This has negative impact in Indonesia because Indonesians see Australia as a power that may be meddling in their affairs," Johansen said. "And while it's helpful to the United Nations for Australia to play this leading role it's also diplomatically desirable to include, in the leadership of the U.N. force there, some other governments that viewed more favorably by Indonesia because U.N. forces have extreme difficulties in operating successfully if they have an active opposition from the host government."
Thursday President Clinton approved 200 Americans troops to assist in the peace keeping mission. While the U.S. government has denounced the violence in East Timor, it has not taken concrete steps to end the militia violence.
"I think the U.S. political and economic and military interests have played a role in discouraging the United States from supporting the independence movement of East Timorese people. At the same time I don't want to overlook other reasons for U.S. lack of leadership in this area," Johansen said.
"So the political difficulties and the volatility of support for the Habibie government in Indonesia is another reason why the United States has been cautious about how to proceed," he added.
Since the U.N. approved the peacekeepers the violence in Dili has decreased and the military has begun to restore order.
"My own feeling is in the long run a robust support for the now clearly expressed will of the East Timorese people is desirable for the United States and the world community," Johansen said. "Moreover, the United States and the world community should remain standing against Indonesian efforts to undermine that referendum. They should on the other hand support Indonesian efforts to establish their own democratic system and stabilize the economy."
More than 2,000 U.N. troops are expected in East Timor on Monday.
All News Stories for Friday, September 17, 1999