August 30, 1999
JIM LEHRER: Now to Constancio Pinto, a native of East Timor, and the representative of the National Council of East Timorese Resistance to the United Nations and North America. And Edward Masters, U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia during the Carter administration, and now president of the United States-Indonesia Society.
Mr. Pinto, U.S. State Department spokesman said today the election, in addition to what the U.N. people said on the ground there, he said today "the election was a success because of this high turnout." Would you use the word success as well to describe it?
CONSTANCIO PINTO: Yes, I agree with that point of view. And I would say this is a success and it is a victory for us, for East Timorese and also for Indonesia.
JIM LEHRER: A victory just because of the turnout, even before the result is known?
CONSTANCIO PINTO: Yes, this big turnout shows that the people of East Timor has, in fact, exercised their right to self-determination.
JIM LEHRER: Ambassador Masters, you agree?
|An election success|
EDWARD MASTERS: I do agree. I think everybody won in these elections. They were remarkably open. They were remarkably peaceful.
JIM LEHRER: What is your explanation for that? All of the terror and the death and all of that, the violence that led up to this, and yet the people voted anyhow -- why?
EDWARD MASTERS: Well, I think a lot of the violence before the election was designed to intimidate people from going to the polls. It didn't work. Obviously they turned out in very large numbers, and obviously they wanted to express their views; they wanted to have a say in their own future.
JIM LEHRER: What's your reading, Mr. Pinto, of why the violence, intimidation, didn't work?
CONSTANCIO PINTO: Well, it didn't work, first of all, it's because of the immense restraint of the East Timorese people not to engage in any conflict, tried to confront the conflict with patience. They understand that with patience we can win. And that's why despite the attack in every places of East Timor, there's no... any response from the East Timorese citizens and from the people.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Ambassador, how would you characterize these militia people, the people who were conducting the terror to try to intimidate the voter?
EDWARD MASTERS: Well, they're obviously people who want to feel very strongly that they want to remain a part of Indonesia. There's no question that they were supported by the Indonesian military...
JIM LEHRER: The official military of the government...
|The military and the militias|
EDWARD MASTERS: The official military, yes. I think there's no question about that. If you asked me to produce evidence, I don't think it exists. But I think you have to assume that the official military supported it. I don't think the civilian leadership of Indonesia supported it.
It was President Habibie who declared that, in January that there would be a free election and I think he stuck to that. But I think there are elements within the military that felt very strongly, 20,000 of their comrades were casualties in the war, in the guerrilla fighting.
They were concerned about the precedent that if the vote in East Timor went in favor of independence, it might have an impact in other areas of the country. So I think they were supporting the militia. It was a -
JIM LEHRER: And the government, President Habibie couldn't stop them from doing it?
EDWARD MASTERS: I think he could not stop them.
JIM LEHRER: Go ahead.
EDWARD MASTERS: Excuse me, I was going to say, what we have in Indonesia now is a fairly weak transitional government. The present government has done a lot of good things. They've opened up the political system, freed political prisoners, they've opened up the press. There have been several hundred new newspapers now. But I don't think he's in firm control of all elements of the government.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Pinto, would you agree with the ambassador's analysis of who the militia is and who supports them?
CONSTANCIO PINTO: Yes. I support the point of view your ambassador. I think the Indonesian civil government, there is goodwill to solve the East Timor problem. But there are some irresponsible people in East Timor who tried to undermine efforts of the central government to solve the East Timor problem. And I would also like to add that it's the group that continued to support the militia and orchestrated all the violence in East Timor aren't the groups that have some kind of economic interest in East Timor and for some reason they also tried to protect their own pride.
JIM LEHRER: Sure. All right, now. Beginning with you, Mr. Pinto, is there any question in your mind that this vote that was so overwhelming today in terms of turnout is going to go for independence rather than autonomy under Indonesia?
CONSTANCIO PINTO: I would say 75 to 90 percent of East Timorese people vote for independence.
JIM LEHRER: And what do you base that on?
CONSTANCIO PINTO: Well, I base on the experience that people have so far since 24 years of oppression. I don't think that those who... their parents, their mothers, their children have been murdered by the Indonesian government Indonesian soldiers would vote for autonomy.
JIM LEHRER: You agree with that, Mr. Ambassador, that it's pretty much a foregone conclusion that independence is won today?
EDWARD MASTERS: I certainly think so. I'd hate to have to put a percentage on it, but I have no doubt that it will go in favor of independence.
|Is independence good for East Timor?|
JIM LEHRER: Is that good for East Timor in your opinion, Mr. Ambassador?
EDWARD MASTERS: It's hard to say. My guess would be economically it may not be. East Timor is a very poor area, very limited resources. It might be that economically they would be better off as a part of a very large, growing Indonesia. But that isn't going to happen. I think that point has been passed. The decision is made on political grounds, on security grounds, psychological grounds.
JIM LEHRER: Now, much has been said going into this election, Mr. Ambassador that, which ever way it went and in view of Mr. Pinto and everything I read today said the same thing, it's clear the overwhelming majority of the people are going to vote for independence but if that is the result, will the government, at least the part they can control, accept those results?
EDWARD MASTERS: I think they will. President Habibie said they will, Foreign Minister Alatas just within the last day or two reaffirmed they will accept the results. I understand that Habibie is going to make a statement tomorrow in which he will not only reiterate the acceptance of the results but will pledge that Indonesia will handle the transition in a responsible way. In other words, it won't cut and run.
JIM LEHRER: Can they control those militias though? How are they likely to react?
EDWARD MASTERS: Good question. And it may well be that they can't. The feelings run very high among these groups on both sides. As you probably know, when Indonesia moved in, in 1975, there was a civil war going on -- between the two factions, pro-integration and pro-independence. Those two factions are still there. And I wouldn't be at all surprised there would be continued difficulty.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Pinto, you agree with that?
CONSTANCIO PINTO: Well, I'll say that yes -- the question of East Timor in 1975 up to now is between East Timorese and Indonesia. Yes, there was some factions in 1975, but that's disappeared in 1975, as soon as Indonesia invaded East Timor. The militias that are now -- threaten the population and call themselves as a group, this is created by Indonesia.
Last year when... or after the President Habibie announced that he would give independence for East Timor. But I think the militia, I hope that they will accept the result. We have offered them all assurances that there will be a general amnesty for everyone, every East Timorese, regardless of the political crimes they have committed in the past. So I think that if they collaborate with us, there won't be any problem.
|The election's aftermath|
JIM LEHRER: But most of the things that I read today, Mr. Pinto, predicted a blood bath after this that, the militia will not accept this result; they will not go quietly and peacefully.
CONSTANCIO PINTO: Well, yes, they have said many times since yesterday and last week, this is what we also are very concerned about. And that's why we now continue to call the international community, the United Nations and the United States to quickly deploy the U.N. Peacekeeping Force in East Timor in order to keep the peace that is now flourishing in East Timor.
JIM LEHRER: You want troops put in there from the outside?
CONSTANCIO PINTO: In East Timor, yes.
JIM LEHRER: In East Timor. And, Mr. Ambassador, what do you think of that idea? Is that going to happen?
EDWARD MASTERS: It could happen, but it's going to take time. It will take at least a couple of months to put together a U.N. Peacekeeping Force. The agreement worked out by Indonesia, the U.N. and Portugal in May was that Indonesia would have the responsibility for maintaining security. Now, there have been lapses in that. There have been problems. There has been support for the militia.
But I think we have to give them a chance to see, partly because the U.N. isn't going to be able to be in there for a couple of months anyhow, but meanwhile I think these assurances that they will maintain the peace, there have been some changes of military commanders in East Timor that I think is a good sign. Some of the hardliners have been moved out.
And I think we have to bear in mind also, if I may say so, that it isn't only the militias that have threatened not to accept the results. The pro-independence group has also. So there could be problems, which ever way it goes.
|Making East Timor safe|
JIM LEHRER: How many... just for planning purposes how many outside troops would it take to maintain peace in East Timor?
CONSTANCIO PINTO: Well, it depends on the decision of the U.N. Security Council. Everything has to be decided by the U.N. Security Council.
JIM LEHRER: Yes, but how many, whether they go along with the request or not, what in your opinion -- how many people would it take, how many armed troops would it take to maintain peace in your country, Mr. Pinto?
CONSTANCIO PINTO: Well, I would say as many as possible.
JIM LEHRER: I mean, several... 50,000, 60,000?
CONSTANCIO PINTO: Yes, 50,000.
JIM LEHRER: How many?
CONSTANCIO PINTO: Maybe 50,000.
JIM LEHRER: 50,000 troops? You agree, Mr. Ambassador it would take that many?
EDWARD MASTERS: I'm not sure it would take that many but it would take a lot because the feelings, as I said, runs very high.
JIM LEHRER: We'll see what happens. Gentlemen thank you very much.
EDWARD MASTERS: Thank you.
CONSTANCIO PINTO: Thank you.