Sat, 11 Sep 1999

Peace is deserved in East Timor after its long bloody struggle

By Yulius P. Hermawan

BANDUNG (JP): For many, it is surprising to see the result of the popular ballot held in East Timor. Seventy eight percent of 450,000 eligible voters rejected Indonesian's proposal for autonomy. Only 21 percent accepted the proposal.

The result reflects a victory for the majority who were ironically oppressed by the minority. Yet it is strange for many who ask why there is no party to celebrate such a victory. In contrast, we see how the prointegration militia who lost considerably to the proindependence movement, have dominated the territory's politics following the announcement of the poll.

It is then reasonable to ask the question as to how a such an oppressive group, such as the militia, could have been allowed to exist for such a long time in this so-called Loro Sae (rising sun) land.

Broadly speaking, it is the determination of the Indonesian Military (TNI) and the government that made the existence of such a group possible. The political elite, who supported integration with Indonesia, have benefited from their involvement playing an important role in governing East Timor.

This is certainly embarrassing, not only for the TNI and the government, but also the whole nation. For more than two decades, the nation failed to listen to the real wishes of one section of the nation and to support their struggle to realize their dream. There comes a moment when the nation needs to consider its contribution in helping the East Timorese commence a new existence.

The result of the ballot should be seen as a matter of fact. Respect of the decision to establish a separate country is imperative in helping the East Timorese find peace in their own land. The government and TNI must show goodwill and accept with good grace the ballot result. Otherwise, the territory will never find peace and the terrible situation of anarchy that exists today will still be there in the future. This is the most difficult challenge that East Timorese now face.

The post-ballot period, until the meeting of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), is a hard and risky time for the East Timorese. According to both the Indonesian legal system and the tripartite agreement sponsored by the United Nations, East Timor will remain a part of this country until the MPR accepts the results of the ballot and allow it to become a separate country. This is despite the fact that the East Timorese have already expressed their desire to separate from the republic.

The prointegration militia will use the next two months to make reconciliation impossible. Meanwhile, proindependence forces will exploit their win at the ballot to fight against the militia. The unclear status of East Timor will raise the risk of disintegration of the territory.

The TNI sees that it has no option other than to guarantee security, under pressure from the UN and the world community. It is a difficult choice for the TNI as regards to its professionalism as well as the cost and benefits to continue its operation in the territory.

It will not be a simple task to persuade former and current TNI soldiers, who have fought and possibly been wounded in East Timor, to accept the fact that the territory may go its own way. The TNI is going to have to swallow a bitter pill due to its grand failure in making the East Timorese feel a significant part of Indonesia. While at the same time the military, under extreme international pressure, will have no choice but to establish peace in Loro Sae land.

For the TNI, the sole option is not an easy choice after it has been proven that the majority of the East Timorese voted for independence. It is likely that the TNI will support the decision of the majority to overcome the ongoing chaos. However the problem is more complicated as the prime cause of the violence is the proautonomy group's rejection of the result of the ballot. Prointegration forces are now actively and obviously mounting a great challenge to the proindependence forces, by terrorizing the people as well as a great challenge to the UN Mission in East Timor (UNAMET). Can the TNI and the Indonesian police overcome this movement?

Many analysts see pro-independence leader Jose Alexander "Xanana" Gusmao as the only figure who is capable to conduct reconciliation between the conflicting forces. The initiative to ensure the safety of prointegration members should be taken by the longstanding crusader of independence. This is the reason President B.J. Habibie freed Xanana.

However, it is a mistake to say that Xanana's responsibility to bring peace is bigger than the President's responsibility.

The capability of Xanana to create security and stability is very limited, if the TNI and the government do not show goodwill to cooperate sincerely with him. Xanana, the leader of the Conselho Nacional da Resistacia Timorese (CNRT), may provide a promise to protect people who rejected independence, if such protection becomes necessary for reconciliation.

However, so long as the prointegration forces feel the support of the TNI and the government, they will escalate their resistance against the formation of a new country.

The role of a multinational army in many respects will not prove helpful to create stable peace. This will worsen the situation in Loro Sae land as well as in other places in Indonesia. International intervention will bring a bad impact on the possible disintegration of Indonesia.

The sole option for the international community is to exert greater pressure on the government and the TNI, urging them to do their best in East Timor.

This is to say that the role of the TNI and the government is very crucial in building peace in East Timor as well as in maintaining stability in the whole territory of the nation. The TNI and the government hold a key role in helping Xanana to initiate reconciliation. The TNI and the government should lobby the prointegration militias to accept a proposal for peaceful reconciliation.

There is not much time for the nation to debate the mistake by President Habibie to generate a policy unconstitutionally. It is Habibie, who has to speak at the upcoming MPR general session.

The necessary task to complete now is to support the East Timorese in building peace in their land. By doing so, we may eliminate the bad image of Indonesia's rule in Loro Sae land. The only option is to provide conducive conditions for peace. This will help our brothers in East Timor enjoy the rewards of peace after a long and bloody struggle.

The writer is a lecturer on international relations at the Catholic University of Parahyangan in Bandung.