/** ips.english: 414.0 **/

** Topic: POLITICS-UN: Who Failed the People of East Timor? **
** Written 9:06 PM Sep 10, 1999 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **
Copyright 1999 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

*** 10-Sep-99 ***

Title: POLITICS-UN: Who Failed the People of East Timor?

Analysis - By Farhan Haq

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 10 (IPS) - The mood has been bleak at the United Nations this week with many diplomats openly discussing whether the crisis in East Timor was just the latest in a series of UN failures.

Diplomats and UN officials compared the crisis, in which hundreds of pro-independence Timorese have been killed by supporters of Indonesia's 24-year occupation, with the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and the massacres which followed Angola's 1991 elections.

At least 800,000 people, perhaps even 1 million, died in Rwanda after the United Nations cut back its peacekeeping mission there- despite reliable reports of plans to massacre the country's Tutsi minority.

More than half-a-million Angolans, meanwhile, died when rebel leader Jonas Savimbi refused to accept his loss in a UN-brokered election, That conflict continues today, while the last UN troops left Angola at the beginning of this year.

The UN's failure in East Timor therefore had familiar overtones to many officials here.

Like Rwanda, UN forces have been powerless to halt killings and key governments have been notably reticent to get involved.

Like Angola, the United Nations proved it could hold a credible election, but was unable to ensure that the results would be respected.

For members of the UN Assistance Mission in East Timor (UNAMET), the world body's inability to halt the militia violence or authorise an international force to take charge, has been demoralising.

One staffer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that some UNAMET officials remained passive even in the face of the growing threat by the militias and their backers in the Indonesian army in recent weeks. ''We could see that it was just like Rwanda, but nobody did anything,'' the staff member said.

''One conclusion appears inescapable: the United Nations has yet again been discredited,'' said Jonathan Eyal, director of studies at London's Royal United Services Institute.

Although UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, among others, acknowledged that the world body could not allow the killings in East Timor to continue with any response, many also blamed Western governments for the failure to protect the Timorese.

Jose Ramos Horta, the East Timorese independence activist and Nobel laureate, said that he did not see how ''people would ever again trust the United Nations.''

But he also argued, ''What is the West doing - the West that went to Bosnia, that went to Serbia and bombed Serbia in the name of human rights, to prevent ethnic cleansing?''

Ironically, just three months ago, Ramos Horta had drawn the ire of the United States by suggesting that the West need not ''bomb Indonesia back to the Stone Age, like it did with Serbia.'' Instead, he argued, Western governments merely needed to stop providing funds and arms for the Indonesian army which could be used to repress the East Timorese.

Pierre Sane, Secretary-General of Amnesty International, urged all governments to cease supplying Indonesia with military, security or police supplies.

''We will be directing our action not just at the Indonesian authorities, but at the governments that have been complicit in the suffering of East Timor,'' he warned.

The United States, a longtime ally of Indonesia, announced Thursday that it would suspend all military assistance to Indonesia.

At the same time, however, some diplomats here blamed the US government for pushing the United Nations to avoid any intervention in East Timor that did not have Jakarta's backing. That policy - also supported by China - paralysed the UN Security Council, which needed to authorise the deployment of any international force in East Timor.

At least 2,000 Australian soldiers were on standby to move to East Timor, but the Council is unlikely to grant the necessary approval until next week at the earliest.

Such diplomatic fumbling was nothing new. The Security Council never was able to approve the sending of armed peacekeepers to deal with the crisis this spring in Kosovo - so the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) launched air strikes without UN authorisation.

In other conflicts, from the ''safe zones'' of Bosnia- Hercegovina to the besieged cities of Angola, the Council often waited until massacres peaked and some calm returned before acting.

That also could be the fate of East Timor, as noted by Antonio Monteiro, Portugal's ambassadorat the United Nations.

Within a few weeks, the problem of East Timor could be solved because ''there would be no more East Timorese'' if the killings persist, he said.

According to UN spokesman Fred Eckhard, the violence in East Timor has eased slightly in the last few days with the imposition of martial law by Indonesia.

For some UN staffers, however, any calm was simply a sign that the violence had peaked - not that the United Nations had found a strategy that was working. (END/IPS/fah/mk/99)