|SHOULD WE INTERVENE?|
September 10, 1999
Three experts discuss the international reaction to the militia violence in East Timor.
JIM LEHRER: The East Timor story. We begin with an interview with Indonesia President Habibie, conducted today by Ian Williams of Independent Television News.
IAN WILLIAMS: We met President Habibie after Friday prayers -- rumors still sweeping Jakarta of a possible military coup. Mr. Habibie's officials have been keeping him away from the media, but today, he wanted to clear the air. It was his first interview since violence swept East Timor. At times, he would defy anxious officials wanting to remove him. He was keen to show his authority, but also reveals a man under intense pressure.
IAN WILLIAMS: Can you give us an assurance that you're still in charge in Indonesia?
PRESIDENT B. J. HABIBIE, Indonesia: I'm still in charge. I have every afternoon, at 5 o'clock, not only, the chief of the police and all chief of staff, of the army, of the navy, and of the air force and I am surrounded by them, and they... I'm here under full control... I am still in control. You see, otherwise - the whole republic is still there. I have to keep them organization. I have to keep them united. I have to keep under right direction to democratization process, to make everybody, every human being in my country protected by the law to enjoy their human rights.
IAN WILLIAMS: Do you think, Mr. Habibie, that there were some elements of the military or the police out of control down there?
PRESIDENT B. J. HABIBIE: I don't know, because you're dealing with emotion. You can -- you see? Here is this, also, in a small example like being in a family. If somebody gets mad, you know, so, if it and I can, of course... I'm not stopping, you know, to act. I'm not the actor . I'm not a man who try to hide. No, I'm neither a coward.
IAN WILLIAMS: In spite of growing evidence that the killing and destruction is planned and orchestrated, Mr. Habibie insists that he was shocked by it.
PRESIDENT B. J. HABIBIE: What we have not predicted, and you can quantify , was the outrageous, unpredictable and uncontrol of these people there. That's why the United Nations, neither the international as well as myself, you know, was pointedly shocked.
IAN WILLIAMS: But Mr. Habibie made clear that his most important concern is the unity of the rest of Indonesia. He also insisted, given time, the latest Indonesian soldiers sent to Dili, will be as effective as U.N. peacekeepers, who he continues to reject.
PRESIDENT B. J. HABIBIE: They are the standard of the United Nations, but of course, you cannot kill if you're feeding these people who have already amok, you know -- amok, and were out of control, you see, and it's painful for them. They go to their rifles and pull them, but what they have done is put them in prison, take the rifles, and now, what happened? This is inappropriate. Already today, so I want you, the whole world, together with me and my people, we are very concerned about the situation, to take everything, to make it and stop assassinating people and even correct, but I'm not allowed to concentrate on 700,000 people to the... what at do you call that to the expenses of the 211. That is my problem. You see? And that's why... I know that. I just look at your face, and say, hello, and I am just telling the truth. Please.
IAN WILLIAMS: But he reiterated his commitment to honor the result of the vote, in which East Timor overwhelmingly opted for independence, and he'll urge the Indonesian parliament to accept it. The president told me he'd received calls from countless world leaders. He knows Indonesia's image in the world is being battered, but remains unwilling, or perhaps unable, to invite foreign soldiers in to stop the bloodshed.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And we get three views now. Douglas Paal was Senior Director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council during the Bush and Reagan administrations. He is now president of the non-profit Asia Pacific Policy Center, which promotes education about trade, investment, and security in Asia. Sidney Jones is Executive Director of Human Rights Watch Asia. She lived in Indonesia in the late 1970's and has traveled there repeatedly over the past 20 years. She was in East Timor in July. And Jim Hoagland is an Associate Editor and Foreign Affairs Columnist at the Washington Post. Sidney Jones, what was your reaction to that interview?
SIDNEY JONES: First of all, anybody who has to protest so much that he's in control is not in control. Habibie is basically a pawn of the armed forces at this stage. Secondly, it's not emotion that is causing this violence. It is a deliberate planned campaign of the Indonesian army. And thirdly, I think he's just dismissing things when he says that the Indonesian army can take care of things. The Indonesian army is responsible for this and only an international force can solve it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Doug Paal, what was your reaction some.
DOUGLAS PAAL: Well, it's pretty much the same as Sidney's. I think we have a weak leader in president Habibie. He's always been a weak leader. His weakness has been more advertised in the last few days. However, we ought to keep talking to him; we ought to use him as a possible way to help get a resolution of this situation but not really heavily rely on him.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Jim Hoagland, your reaction.
JIM HOAGLAND: Well, President Habibie seems to be inviting us to believe either that he is a fool or an evil man. And I'm prepared to believe that he is a fool, as he asked us to accept that he cannot affect the situation in East Timor today. He does not have control of this military. He does not even control probably his presidential palace.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Jim Hoagland, Kofi Annan, the President, President Clinton, the Pope have all said that Indonesia must accept a peacekeeping force. President Habibie says they won't. The general who is supposedly in charge says they won't. What should the U.S. do now?
JIM HOAGLAND: Well, the U.S. doesn't have a credible threat of force here as it did with NATO in Europe and in Kosovo, in particular. I think that's the first thing we have to recognize that we're going to have to use politics. We're going to have to use economic pressure. The President... President Clinton indicated today that we would be moving in that direction but we still seem to be moving quite slowly and quite reactively in this crisis that caught us by surprise. I think we need to focus the Indonesian government's attention and the Indonesian military's attention on the long-term punishment that they will suffer particularly in terms of economic development, loans from the Asian Development Bank, and any international institution where we have influence, where the United States has influence, such as the G-8, the group of eight industrial powers, and even at the United Nations. We have to make it clear that we will oppose Indonesia on vital questions. The Belgian foreign minister today suggested that the European Union should begin to consider recognizing East Timor as an independent nation. I think that is a dramatic step. That kind of threat will capture the Indonesian attention. And I think it's something that the United States should also lend its voice to.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Doug Paal, do you agree with that?
DOUGLAS PAAL: It's a good step maybe two or three days from now. In the meantime I think the President has been on the right course in the last 24 hours, that's to spell out to the Indonesian armed forces that their real choice is between hanging on to Timor and going into anarchy, losing international economic support, and possibly having to encounter secessionist movements elsewhere in the country or making a deal with the U.N. now, settling this issue and retaining their accessed international funding which is vital to social stability in Indonesia at large.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Sidney Jones, do you agree that the administration has been on the right track in the last 24 hours? SIDNEY JONES: I think it's time to stop warning and just cut. I think all non-humanitarian economic assistance should be suspended immediately, together with all military sales and the U.S. should be working to bring Japan and the European Union on board to do exactly the same. It's completely wrong to say this crisis caught us by surprise. Yesterday in front of Congress Under-Secretary Pickering said it didn't catch us by surprise. We foresaw this months ago. So if that's the case, why warn? Now is the time to cut.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Sidney Jones, what are you hearing from your people there about who is in charge?
SIDNEY JONES: It's very clear that, to us, that the directions for these militias and this violence is coming directly from Jakarta. It's not possible that these are rogue elements, partly because even as you saw the attack on the U.N. compound today, the new soldiers sent in by General Wiranto supposedly with the martial law imprimatur behind him were still taking part in this. And also the militias have gone to West Timor. We're not just talking about the crisis in East Timor any longer. We're talking about militias, again, I think directed by Jakarta, taking part in major violence and attacks on refugees in West Timor.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Doug Paal, do you have anything to add to that about who is in charge?
DOUGLAS PAAL: Well, it's very clear as time has passed that the Habibie government is not really in charge. It's hard to maintain a front that somehow this is happening without the purview of General Wiranto. It might be useful to sustain the fiction for another 48 hours that Wiranto is trying to make changes so that he can back down from his current position. But we ought not to really kid ourselves about it. He bears responsibility.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Jim Hoagland given all these developments, what are the risks of pressuring Indonesia to allow in a force? In other words, how resistant will they be? What are the risks of pressuring them too hard? For example, it may threaten Habibie's, whatever power he has now, right?
JIM HOAGLAND: I think that's the least of the risk. I think the stakes here are enormous but the fate of Mr. Habibie is not among the large stakes here. In fact, I think one of the first things we ought to be doing is pressuring the Indonesians to speed up the transition from the current Habibie government to the new government that is supposed to take charge in November. They should come into power earlier. But the stakes are very large in the sense of pressuring the Indonesians and then having the Indonesians continue to flout United Nations' appeals and condemnations. After all, it was the United Nations that agreed to sponsor the August 30 referendum. It was the United States that pushed for that referendum. We've taken on enormous moral responsibility. If the United Nations fails here, it is a severe blow to U.N. credibility and to American credibility.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Sidney Jones, continuing on this, on the risks, I'm really struck in reading the wires by the amount of xenophobia, the kinds of things that people in Indonesia are saying about why the West is pressuring. Could you address that.
SIDNEY JONES: Yes, I think there's no question but that this whole crisis has generated a major anti-western, anti-U.N., anti-Australian and anti-U.S. backlash. But part of it is the way this whole crisis is being spun. It's being portrayed not as a one-sided military murderous rampage against the pro-independence forces but as a civil war. That's not true. It's being portrayed as anger by militias and by pro- autonomy forces, pro-Indonesia forces in East Timor that they were denied a victory because of fraud by the United Nations. So it's as though the campaign against the U.N. and the notion that really victory was in the hands of the pro-Indonesia forces, which is ludicrous given the percentage of the vote in favor of independence, that's what is driving this backlash. And there is a risk that by pressuring Indonesia, you could get a kind of... almost a decision to dig in and you will get additional domestic support by sticking in and refusing to budge when people pressure to invite an international force, but I still think that pressure, continued pressure and actual cuts of military and economic aid, will probably produce results of getting the Indonesian government to invite that force in.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Doug Paal, on the risks, I'm going to come back on the risks of not getting a force in, but on the risks of pressuring in these ways given all this xenophobia.
DOUGLAS PAAL: Well, I think that we have to change the perceptions. We can't change the mass perception. We have to change the perceptions of the few people at the top. They have got to confront the notion of losing control of their country because the economy will go into a tailspin without enter-- international economic support. The government has got to take a longer view of than this short-term concern they have about Timor. We only have about 48 or 72 hours to make this pressure point until we reach the critical moment when the U.N. receives the report of the five ambassadors now visiting Indonesia on Monday. We have to use every means we have-- and I hope we're using plenty of personal intermediaries to go in and tell these generals just how high the stakes are and how wrong their perception is about the choices they face.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Jim Hoagland, you laid out the risks of not going in. Should a force go in without permission from Indonesia?
JIM HOAGLAND: I think it's extremely doubtful that such a force would be successful, that it would generate the kind of support that would be needed to carry out that operation. Americans remember Vietnam all too vividly will not want to see American ground troops committed in Asia again in this kind of situation. So I think the risks of not going in will pale in comparison to the risks of going in.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Go ahead.
JIM HOAGLAND: But at the same time I think it's important for us to recognize and particularly for the Clinton administration to recognize that what is going on in Indonesia and it's not limited just to East Timor, is a revolution -- that is unfinished. It's been going on for more than a year, it's likely to go on for some years more. And it's time to apply security and political tools to this, analytical tools as well as the trade and finance tools that the administration has been obsessed with in Asia.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Doug Paal, if there isn't permission to go in and the killings continue, what are the risks then?
DOUGLAS PAAL: The risks of the killings continuing in Timor are that the military will get bogged down there. It will have a rebellious population, a dwindling population unfortunately, but they'll have to station a lot of forces. That means they're going to have to thin out a relatively small Indonesian army. They won't be able to concentrate their forces in other areas where separatism is underway, and they'll start to see the country come apart at the seams. They will lack the international economic glue to hold it together.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And how do you answer the question should a force go in without permission?
DOUGLAS PAAL: I don't think it's a practical operation. We don't have the coalition of the willing prepared to do that. It's a tragedy. One of the things I hope we do as we walk away from this episode down the road is to consider how important it is to consider small issues and their bigger strategic consequences well before they develop as this one has done.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Sidney Jones, do you think a force should go in without permission?
SIDNEY JONES: I think something ought to be done to stop this kind of slaughter. But, unfortunately I agree that neither the countries that can provide the manpower, such as Australia, would go in without Indonesian government permission and also the Security Council that would have to approve such a force will not approve it without Indonesian government permission.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Sidney, what is your reaction to the argument some people are making including letters that we got today, our online letters, that the U.S. and Australia and other countries would have gotten involved much sooner if these weren't Asians, that there's a racial issue here?
SIDNEY JONES: I don't think there's a racial issue. I do think that there were concerns about the economic consequences of suspending aid at a time when it was clear that the military was backing these militias, but I think there was no excuse since we did know about this much earlier, there was no excuse for not taking stronger action in March, April or May.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Doug Paal, on that issue of whether this is because it's in Asia that we're not getting involved?
DOUGLAS PAAL: I don't think so. I think that the U.S. may have been complacent about the scope of what could go wrong in this exercise, but the Australians had taken an early lead, pre-positioned forces and supplies, had organized a coalition of other countries to go in in a peaceful fashion to maintain the peace in Timor. And that had lulled us into believing that it was under control. I don't think there was a racial element to this whatsoever.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Thank you all very much.