Letter: Timor's innocents

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The Independent Culture
Sir: In the words of a UN official, the mass turnout for Monday's referendum was "a triumph for the long-suffering people of East Timor". It strikes me as deplorable, then, that the UK government chooses the very next day to admit to the flying of British-supplied Hawks over East Timor in contravention of Indonesian government assurances ("Row over use of Hawks to intimidate voters", 1 September). The same day, the Government says it has received new assurances, and so Indonesia may still attend Britain's major arms fair at Chertsey next month.

Despite the undreamt-of success of the referendum so far, there is still a difficult passage ahead. Not content with documenting alleged irregularities and accusing the UN of bias towards the independence movement, pro-Indonesian militias appear to be starting to make good their threats of turning East Timor into a "sea of fire" ("Militias block roads in fresh violence", 1 September).

The only honourable course for the UK government is to follow the counsel of Donald Anderson, chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee: to suspend arms sales until it is certain that Indonesia will abide by the referendum result. Instead, the Government prefers to hide behind the legal figleaf of the UN Charter's right to self-defence, while conveniently forgetting that neither the UN nor Britain has ever recognised Indonesia's occupation of East Timor.

Failing that, I hope that Robin Cook can add his voice to those of Bishop Belo and the Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, calling for the prompt release of Xanana Gusmao, the imprisoned pro-independence leader, who is widely seen as having the ability, whatever the outcome of the ballot, to bring a sense of calm, a sense of healing and a sense of inclusiveness and reconciliation to East Timor.


London W6