West tries to halt Timor vote violence

WESTERN COUNTRIES are squaring up for a political struggle against the Indonesian army over East Timor. They are desperately looking for ways to stop the soldiers using violence and terror to block a vote on independence.

Tomorrow foreign ministers from Indonesia and Portugal sign a deal at the UN in New York offering East Timorese the chance to choose on 8 August between independence and autonomy. Most observers expect a majority, embittered by 23 years of Indonesian brutality, to choose independence.

The Indonesian president, BJ Habibie, wants the ballot to go ahead: it was he who offered the East Timorese the chance to vote against Jakarta. If they do, he said last week, "we'll separate in peace, as friends and with honour".

But he is a weak civilian president with little influence over conservative nationalists in the army. Officers have been using militiamen to attack people who oppose Indonesian rule. Dozens have died and independence leaders have been forced into exile or hiding.

"It's Habibie and the international community versus the Indonesian armed forces, and it's an unequal struggle," said a diplomat.

Western countries spent decades kowtowing to the generals, training their men and selling them arms. Now they have two months to persuade them not to spoil the ballot.

Part of the persuasion will come from UN policemen due in East Timor from 10 May. Their official role will be to advise Indonesian police on supervising the ballot. Their less official role will be to keep an eye on the security forces and send a discreet message to the army that East Timor is now an international problem.

Even so, the UN police - and, just before the poll, election monitors - will find it hard to keep an eye on what the army, militias and officials are doing in East Timor's hundreds of towns and villages.

"If the army still helps the militias, the police presence alone won't mean much," said Hendardi, the Indonesian lawyer of Xanana Gusmao, East Timor's independence leader, who has called from his Jakarta jail for UN peace-keeping troops tobe deployed to disarm the militias.

But with many Western countries entangled in the Balkans war, they are unlikely to be sent. Instead, Indonesia's former allies in the West are looking for less expensive and risky ways of making their point to the army. There is little point threatening to cut loans or aid, because that would hurt Mr Habibie more than the army.

But the West can threaten to cut remaining links with the military. The United States and Australia have held exercises with Indonesia. Washington was planning joint naval manoeuvres this year; these could be scrapped. Britain is still delivering arms: two Hawk aircraft arrived last week under a contract dating back to the Tory government.

Western officials can only hope that reducing these links, plus the UN presence, will dissuade Indonesia's soldiers and their allies from using violence.

A European official admitted the chances might be "less than half". If so, there is a risk the vote is going to be delayed, or turn into a bloody farce.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Highs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
News
news
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam