East Timor Crisis: Emergency UN meeting on violence

  • @dusborne
THE UNITED Nations Security Council rushed into emergency session in New York last night amid fears that two days after a vote on independence from Indonesia, East Timor may be about to slide back into anarchy following violent clashes between pro- and anti-independence supporters in Dili.

Pressure on council members to respond to the violence was intensified by remarks from the New Zealand Foreign Minister, Don McKinnon, that if security in East Timor collapses, his and other countries, including Australia and the United States, might send a non-UN peace-keeping force into the province.

In New York , the council was expected to repeat its insistence that the Indonesian government do more to contain the violence. Responsibility forsecurity was firmly placed with Jakarta in the 5 May agreement reached under UN auspices between Indonesia and Portugal, the former colonial power in the province. It was that accord that paved the way for Monday's referendum.

Some council members were expected to urge the UN Secretariat to prepare to deploy a peace-keeping force. "We believe firmly that the UN has to be prepared for various contingencies including the worst-case scenario," said Robert Fowler, the Canadian ambassador to the UN. "If the security situation deteriorates dramatically, the UN must be ready to react".

While the referendum, which drew a nearly 99 per cent turnout, was at first hailed as a success by its UN organisers, the Security Council now faces the prospect of the entire Timor process spiralling out of control, with its own credibility once more placed on the line.

Diplomats in New York still considered any non-UN intervention by New Zealand and other countries to be highly unlikely. Australia denied that it shared Wellington's thinking and there is no appetite for military intervention in Washington. "I don't see a bandwagon rolling in that direction," Fred Eckhard, spokesman for UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, said yesterday.

It has long been expected that the UN would send a security force to Timor if the vote backs independence - as is widely expected - but only after the process of ratifying the result is over. That would not be until October when the Indonesian parliament in Jakarta would meet to consider ratification. Final endorsement of the vote would then come from Portugal and thereafter from the Security Council.

Pressure could build for the deployment of a UN force much sooner, however, if the violence gets worse. But if it took such a step, the Security Council would risk infuriating the Indonesian government whose co-operation it needs. The council also faces its own divisions, with Islamic members loathe to endorse any action that would short-circuit Indonesia's role in what is still Indonesian territory. China could be expected to wield its veto to prevent any move by the UN to intervene on the side of the independence movement.

Moreover, any international intervention in East Timor, either in the immediate term or after October, would hinge to a large degree on a contribution by the US. East Timor does not rate highly on the list of political priorities in Washington, however, and persuading members of Congress to send in troops is likely to be an uphill task.

The US representative at yesterday's session, Ambassador Peter Burleigh, hinted at Washington's unwillingness to go beyond the agreement that leaves Indonesia in charge of security until the vote's ratification. "We expect the Indonesian authorities to live up to their responsibilities under the 5 May agreement," he said. "Really, we are insisting that they do".

The council has limited diplomatic leverage over Jakarta. However, with US backing, it could eventually initiate a discussion on imposing economic sanctions on the Indonesian government if a conclusion is reached that the regime is not abiding by the provision agreed to on 5 May.

Mr Eckhard said there were no plans for the early deployment of a UN peace-keeping force in East Timor, even if there is further worsening of the violence. "To my knowledge there has been no discussion of such a contingency," he said.