In East Timor, it's time for outside help

September 09, 1999

Here is an excerpt of an editorial from the Philadelphia Inquirer, which was published yesterday.

ARMED thugs have killed hundreds in East Timor, a long-suffering land north of Australia. Thousands have fled by land, air or sea.

Militias with guns, grenades and machetes are smashing the East Timorese for voting overwhelmingly to end Indonesia's 24-year occupation and become an independent nation.

Indonesia's guarantee of order and safety after the plebiscite has proved worthless. The world community's reliance on that guarantee now looks naive.

So as this week began, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Australian Prime Minister John Howard gave Indonesian President B.J. Habibie 48 hours to crack down on the violent purge - or to invite the Security Council to send in an international peacekeeping force. If anything, this timetable was too slow.

Even if Mr. Habibie's declaration of martial law in East Timor on Monday helps to slow the violence, a U.N.-approved force is justified by Indonesia's 24-year record of mistreating the East Timorese -- an occupation that left some 200,000 dead from violence and famine. Neighboring Australia has offered 2,000 soldiers right away, a force that it would gradually double. New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Canada and France sound ready to send troops.

Unless Indonesia gives the green light, the authority for such a force would be vetoed in the Security Council by China and, perhaps, Russia.

But with Indonesia getting tens of billions in financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund, this struggling nation simply cannot afford to flout the world's insistence on freedom and security for the people of East Timor.

Indonesia's stubbornness on this issue is tied to national unity. Indonesian leaders have long worried that independence for East Timor might encourage other rebellions trying to break loose from the thousands of islands now bound together as Indonesia.

But the situation of occupied East Timor, a majority-Catholic former colony of Portugal, is different from the rest of Indonesia, a majority-Muslim archipelago colonized by the Netherlands. After inflicting 24 years of hell on the East Timorese, it is time for Indonesia to let go.

Pub Date: 9/09/99

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