The Timor test

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 September, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 September, 1999, 12:00am

Today will see the start of yet another test of Indonesia's political reliability when the first United Nations-endorsed peacekeepers land in East Timor to restore and maintain order. If Jakarta performs as disgracefully as it has in the past, grim times lie ahead.

That UN troops are being sent stems entirely from the decision of Indonesia's generals to make murder, rape and pillaging their official policies.

Rather than leave the territory and let residents of East Timor have the independence they chose, and which Jakarta promised to deliver, an angry army did its best to destroy that which it could not keep. An ineffectual civilian leadership could not or would not reverse this course.

Only after reluctant outsiders threatened reprisals, such as blocking desperately needed loans, did Jakarta finally agree to let in peacekeepers. Even then, militiamen and Indonesian soldiers continued to murder as many pro-independence leaders as possible, while destroying what little modern infrastructure East Timor had.

How well the army co-operates with peacekeepers will test anew its political credibility. Initial reports from Dili, the East Timor capital where UN representatives met Jakarta commanders yesterday, were promising.

At the same time, however, militia leaders said they would fight to control a section of East Timor for those who voted against independence - a demand which has no legal basis.

If the army lets its militia puppets fight the UN forces, then Jakarta should pay a heavy price. International agencies should halt all aid, and other countries should bring maximum pressure on Indonesia to act like the responsible nation it so often claims to be.

East Timor deserves the peace and freedom for which its people have suffered so much.