Jakarta Must Prevent the Escalation of Violence

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NAPSNet Special Report

Recommended Citation

Donald K. Emmerson, "Jakarta Must Prevent the Escalation of Violence", NAPSNet Special Reports, September 07, 1999, https://nautilus.org/napsnet/napsnet-special-reports/jakarta-must-prevent-the-escalation-of-violence/

September 7, 1999

This is the fifth in an ongoing series of articles on the crisis in East Timor. 
This article is by Donald K. Emmerson, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Asia/Pacific 
Research Center.  It originally appeared in the International Herald Tribune on September 6.  


Jakarta Must Prevent the Escalation of Violence

International Herald Tribune Monday, September 6, 1999
By Donald K. Emmerson 

DILI, East Timor - The decolonization of East Timor has passed a critical 
test.  Under UN supervision, 98.6 percent of the registered voters braved 
intimidation to come to polling stations and choose between autonomy 
within Indonesia or separation from it.  Of the ballots cast, 78.5 
percent favored independence.  Now a new phase has begun: the 
implementation of independence against the wishes of the losing side and 
its Indonesian allies.  Rampant violence threatens the successful 
completion of this phase.  This is violence that the Indonesian 
government expressly promised to prevent.

Jakarta must now stop the bloodshed and rescue its already damaged 
international standing.  If it allows the killing to continue, it will 
reap global opprobrium as an unreliable and irresponsible state.

A recent stay in East Timor, where I helped to monitor the vote last 
Monday for the Carter Center, leaves me convinced that Jakarta is not 
meeting its obligations under the agreement it signed on May 5 with the 
UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, and with Portugal.  In that accord, 
Jakarta promised to provide security prior to and following the ballot.  
At Jakarta's insistence, the United Nations would only provide unarmed 
advisers to the Indonesian police.

The remarkably high turnout last Monday testifies to the courage of the 
voters in resisting intimidation by the armed militias that have been 
operating with impunity throughout the territory.  Had Jakarta fulfilled 
its security obligations, the police would have disarmed these 
paramilitary gangs months ago.

For all that time the militias have made the roads unsafe.  Returning 
with a colleague to Dili on the day after the vote, I encountered five 
roadblocks set by militias east of the city.  Security within Dili, 
meanwhile, appeared to us nonexistent.  Men in black militia T-shirts 
roamed the streets brandishing weapons.  The police were nowhere to be 

On Wednesday, militia activity intensified outside UN headquarters in 
Dili.  Three people were killed, more were injured and hundreds fled into 
the UN compound.  Yet according to an American journalist who was himself 
beaten by militia members, it took the police 90 minutes to arrive on the 

Since the polling day, the death toll has mounted into double digits.  
This shows how abjectly Jakarta has failed to secure the territory.  That 
the militias were originally armed and abetted by Indonesian forces 
underscores Jakarta's responsibility to rein them in.

If the Indonesian government cannot be relied upon to make even a good 
faith effort to suppress the militias, despite its explicit agreement to 
ensure local security, then how can it expect to be trusted by foreign 
governments on other matters?

If the United Nations is now forced to escalate its mission from managing 
a plebiscite to restoring and keeping peace, or if an Australian-proposed 
"coalition of the willing" must intervene to restore order, Indonesia 
will not be remembered for its realism and foresight in allowing the East 
Timorese to be consulted on their future.  Jakarta might instead be 
recalled as complicit and hypocritical for having failed to meet its 
international obligation to stop the violence.  East Timor has chosen.  
It is Indonesia's turn.


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