Fri, 25 Feb 2000

East Timor, causes and consequences

During the Dutch colonial era, my history teacher in junior high school once said that Indonesians have gentle characters, but when they are oppressed intensely or for a prolonged period they will run amok, indiscriminately attack everything or everyone around them, often in a trance-like condition.

For years the government of Indonesia said that a ballot on self-determination in East Timor, something that Ramos Horta had incessantly proposed, would cause chaos and calamity. So it was a big and unpleasant surprise for everyone when then president Habibie, who perhaps had become upset at being lectured by the Australian prime minister, made an announcement that there would be a referendum in East Timor.

Foreign minister Ali Alatas, who had always opposed the idea because of his fear of the potential consequences, had no other choice but to follow the President's order. Or maybe he himself had become tired of bearing the burden for so many years as a foreign minister and had never been able to solve the crisis in East Timor.

Peculiarities occurred during the preparation for the ballot which was carried out by the UN body UNAMET. Both Habibie and Alatas had always pledged that the ballot would be carried out in a fair and honest manner. That was not how it turned out. The fact has been pointed out by many people, among them Mr. Benjamin Mangkudilaga, who without doubt is a person with high integrity, and a foreigner who lived in Dili, who wrote a letter titled UNAMET off the rails which appeared in Your Letters in The Jakarta Post on Aug. 19, 1999.

I strongly believe that the ballot carried out by UN/Unamet was engineered so the proindependence side would win. As a consequence of a ballot that was won in an unfair and dishonest manner, there was chaos. The prointegration group ran amok. The non-Timorese who had lived there for years ran amok and burned their own houses. Perhaps some of the Indonesian Military personnel also ran amok, because for years they had been terrorized by the proindependence groups and pressured by the international community.

As an Indonesian, I sadly admit that what my history teacher said back in the late 1930s is somewhat true and this phenomenon still happens to this day. Look at all the examples recently of people running amok in many parts of our country.

It is a sad fact that only the government officials (the civil service, the police force and the military) have been blamed for what happened in East Timor; B.J. Habibie, in his then capacity of commander in chief, has been left untouched. It is also disheartening to see that no effort has been made to lodge a complaint to the UN about UNAMET chairman Ian Martin, who carried out the ballot in an unfair and dishonest manner. The UN and UNAMET made big mistakes in handling the case of East Timor.

The government should have the guts to unveil all the facts now.

Habibie, the UN/UNAMET, particularly Ian Martin, are most of all to blame for the chaos in East Timor. It is simply a law of cause and consequences.

I hope that all institutions involved in East Timor can put these facts and this opinion in perspective.