GLW: UN goes soft on militias

Green Left Weekly

Issue #430
November 29, 2000

EAST TIMOR: UN goes soft on militias

On November 21, some 400 East Timorese refugees were repatriated from West Timor. This was the first coordinated return of refugees since the murder of UN workers in the West Timor town of Atambua on September 6.

The return of these refugees is positive, but unless the security situation within West Timor is significantly improved, tens of thousands of East Timorese hostages look set to spend many more months in refugee camps controlled by pro-Jakarta militias.

The repatriated group include a sizeable number of former low-ranking officers and territorial troops (plus their families) recruited into the Indonesian military (TNI). Their return and reintegration will be an important test for reconciliation and justice in the emerging East Timorese nation.

But a thorough process of bringing to account pro-Jakarta militia leaders and gang members responsible for human rights abuses, along with their TNI overlords, is being derailed by the Indonesian government and the UN.

The "one-off" repatriation on November 21 was able to go ahead in part due to the visit of UN Security Council delegation to East Timor, West Timor and Jakarta in mid-November. The visit was to assess and "assist" the Indonesian government in implementing Security Council resolution 1319, passed after the murder of the UN workers. The resolution calls for the disarming and disbanding of the militias and for security measures to allow the UN High Commission for Refugees and other international aid bodies to

No punishment

During the visit, the head of the mission, Namibia's UN representative Martin Andjaba, stressed, "We are not here to punish Indonesia or to recommend to the security council to call for punishment".

After visiting refugee camps in West Timor and meeting with government ministers in Jakarta, Andjaba stated that the activity of the militias was still a problem. "Until those conditions and circumstances that prompted their [UN agencies'] withdrawal from West Timor are addressed fully, it will be difficult for the UNHCR and other UN agencies to return to West Timor", Andjaba said on November 16.

Indonesian government ministers and security personnel claim the situation in West Timor is now secure and UN personnel can return. Coordinating minister for political, social and security affairs, Susilo Yudhoyono, said that "all necessary measures" had been taken to improve security and that the "situation has returned to normal, even much better than before the Atambua incident ... It is up to the UN Security Council to reconsider the return of UNHCR to West Timor."

On November 20, Andjaba indicated it could be some time before the repatriation of refugees begins. He said that the Indonesian government is willing to start discussions with UN officials in Jakarta on the "possibility" of sending UN experts to refugee camps in West Timor for a further assessment of the security situation and their OK for the return of humanitarian agencies.

When asked about the security situation and the Indonesian government's steps to try those responsible for human rights abuses, Andjaba replied the government "has tried its best" and that "I don't think it is time now for an international criminal tribunal".

Andjaba's comments echo those of UN representatives and Western governments throughout the year: in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary, they are defending the Indonesian government's position that it alone should conduct investigations into the post-ballot violence in East Timor and bring those responsible to justice.

It looks unlikely that those ultimately responsible, including former TNI head General Wiranto, will face trial. Or if they do it will be a long, drawn out process open to manipulation.

Repression increases

On November 23 UN human rights commissioner Mary Robinson arrived in Jakarta to assess progress with the investigations. Robinson stressed the importance of accountability and said the UN was prepared to provide Indonesia with assistance, such as the training of judges.

While this may help make the legal process in Indonesia a little more transparent, it is by far the major problem which needs to be overcome if justice is to prevail.

The Serious Crimes Investigation unit in East Timor (responsible for investigating murder, rape and other human rights abuses) is currently facing a major funding and resources crisis prompting the chief investigator to threaten to resign. The lack of funding has meant a cut back in the number of investigations undertaken and the release of a significant number of militia members being held in detention centres (including those who have confessed to or are known to have committed
serious crimes).

But the major factor preventing justice being done for the Timorese is the unwillingness of the major powers to support an international war crimes tribunal. This is linked to the West's moves to improve ties with the TNI and their fear that any such a tribunal would undermine the increasingly unpopular Wahid government and fan greater political instability.

Despite their "concern" over the increase in repression in West Timor, Aceh and West Papua, Australia, US and other Western powers remain hell-bent on improving ties with the TNI.

During the visit of the security council delegation to West Timor, the head of the US Pacific Command, Admiral Denis Blair, stated that the suspension of military training and aid programs with the Indonesian military after the 1991 Dili massacre had been a mistake.

Blair added that it was important to return to the level of contact that existed before 1991, so as to improve "communication" and "understanding" between Indonesian officers and their counterparts in the US military.

Similarly, Australian Prime Minister John Howard signalled his intention to improve relations with the Indonesian military by announcing the government's proposals for defence spending and defence strategies would be presented to the Indonesian government before being made known to the Australian public.

Howard's announcement came after a string of pro-Jakarta statements by himself, Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer and the ALP's shadow foreign affairs minister Laurie Brereton during the recent South Pacific Forum. All oppose independence for West Papua, currently the site of a major Indonesian troop build-up in the lead-up to protests scheduled for December 1.