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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
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

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Assistant

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have previous experience...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015