The Guardian [UK]

Thursday September 9, 1999

Humiliation as Jakarta talks tough


US reluctance to act leaves outside world hamstrung

John Gittings in Jakarta

The UN was humiliated yesterday as military and government spokesmen in Indonesia ridiculed its demands for an end to the crisis in East Timor - even as five UN ambassadors talked in Jakarta.

The foreign minister, Ali Alatas, scoffed at international pressure for a peacekeeping force, saying it would have to "shoot its way into East Timor". He warned the world not to "issue ultimatums".

The armed forces spokesman, Major-General Sudrajat, mocked the UN secretary-general's demand that order in East Timor should be restored within two days. "This is not realistic. This is not like flushing the toilet," he said in response to Kofi Annan's plea.

In a further challenge to the international community, President BJ Habibie cancelled his planned trip to a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders in New Zealand, on the grounds that his government can deal with the crisis on its own.

As the flames rose higher after one day of martial law in Dili, the capital of East Timor, unconfirmed rumours that President Habibie had threatened to resign flew around the city. Suspicion of top-level splits in the leadership have grown after the revelation that Mr Habibie and his cabinet agreed to the declaration of martial law only under strong pressure from the armed forces chief, General Wiranto.

The decision was taken, said yesterday's Jakarta Post, after General Wiranto "insisted that martial law was needed to empower the military and police in carrying out tough measures to restore order".

Foreign ministers of the US, Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand will be meeting in Auckland to discuss the crisis, but no clear action has been proposed. The US secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, avoided specific mention of sanctions against Indonesia, saying there were "a number of ways to make it clear they have not carried out their responsibility."

The British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, appealed to Indonesia to accept peacekeepers but said Britain would not back intervention without Jakarta's consent. But the senior Portuguese diplomat in Jakarta, Ana Gomes, yesterday made an outspoken appeal for international intervention, saying: "The [UN] security council cannot sit idly and watch the genocide."

The UN appears to have hamstrung its diplomacy by giving its approval in advance, under US pressure, to Indonesia's declaration of martial law in East Timor. The leader of the UN delegation in Jakarta, Martin Andjaba, was reduced to saying that "we hope that martial law will work, but it would be more useful and beneficial if we had the rest of the international community to participate [by sending peacekeepers]."

But speaking to reporters after a two-hour meeting with the UN delegation, Mr Alatas claimed that the issue of UN peacekeeping had not even been discussed.

Evidence is mounting that US unwillingness to lean on the Indonesian government has been a significant factor in international diplomatic caution. The Australian foreign minister, Alexander Downer, said yesterday: "The Americans have made it clear they want to wait until the security council get backing from Indonesia."

The US defence secretary, William Cohen, said yesterday that Washington has no plans to contribute troops to any peacekeeping force. European diplomats say the US has consistently argued that East Timor is only a small territory, and that Western economic and political interests in Indonesia must take priority.

Speaking to CNN before he met the UN ambassadors, Mr Alatas lectured the outside world on its bad manners.

"Don't pressure us, don't give us ultimatums ... because it doesn't help and it is not realistic," he said. "Don't talk about peacekeeping when we know, and you know, that you won't be able to get peacekeepers on the ground within just a week - unless you want to shoot your way into East Timor!"

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