48 hours to stem violence …

The UN and Australia give Jakarta the deadline, after which the international community will step in.

INDONESIA declared martial law in East Timor yesterday, but the United Nations and Australia both put the beleaguered Habibie government on notice that if its move did not stem the orgy of violence within 48 hours, the world community intended to take steps.

As international pressure mounted on Jakarta to act decisively over the chaos in East Timor – where military-backed pro-integration militiamen were hacking and gunning down people – UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a stiff warning from New York.

“The present chaos in East Timor cannot be allowed to fester any longer,” he said in a statement on Monday night, adding that if Indonesia did not bring order in two days, “the international community will have to consider what other measures it can take to assist the Indonesian government”.

Sources in Canberra, which has been openly critical of Jakarta’s handling of the East Timor debacle, said Australian Prime Minister John Howard also called President B.J. Habibie on Monday night to voice concern over the deteriorating situation in the territory where at least 400 have died after a historic poll there last week.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer was one of several who expressed scepticism about the success of martial law in controlling pro-Jakarta militias.

Dr Habibie, who is also under pressure from hawkish generals peeved by election results in favour of independence, succumbed to international pressure and declared a state of emergency in the territory, which is tantamount to imposing martial law.

Palace and military sources said Indonesian Defence Forces chief General Wiranto met Dr Habibie and others late on Monday night because he was unhappy with an earlier Cabinet decision not to impose martial law in East Timor.

But after more than two hours of heated discussion, Dr Habibie – who was opposed to taking such a action as he believed it could dent his “reformist” credentials – relented and gave the go ahead.

Diplomatic sources believe that by pressing ahead with his demand for imposition of martial law, Gen Wiranto is attempting to save face over the “loss” of East Timor at the ballot box.

They also said that he is also trying to increase his leverage with the civilian politicians – including presidential aspirant Megawati Soekarnoputri – by registering the continued relevance of the military role in Indonesian politics.

Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Feisal Tanjung said yesterday that with martial law, East Timor would be under “emergency military status”.

Gen Wiranto told reporters that the new status would allow the military to conduct “sweeping” operations to look for weapons and to clamp down on law-breakers. It also meant a curfew, and that a shoot-on-sight policy was in force.

Despite coming into effect yesterday, there was little indication in East Timor that it was being implemented as violence continued to erupt in the capital of Dili.

Military sources told The Straits Times that nearly 400 have died in militia killings, which they predicted would continue indefinitely.

Analysts also said Mr Annan’s 48-hour notice for Indonesia appears to be the first attempt by the UN to force Jakarta to respond to the crisis actively.

This is despite the fact that the world community had, until recently, pursued a less than calibrated approach to the problem. The Straits Times understands that even Washington was split on how to resolve it.

Said a Western source: “The State Department is pro-intervention, the Pentagon does not want to have anything to do with a small island far away from the US, and the White House seems to be sitting on the fence.”


All eyes are on the turn of events in beleaguered East Timor as Jakarta moves to quell the raging violence amid international calls for decisive action:

  • East Timor Catholic Bishop Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo fled to Darwin with UN mission staff and expatriates, terrified for their lives. * New Zealand announced it would host an emergency global meeting on the crisis for ministers attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
  • Indonesia deployed navy ships and military planes to evacuate refugees.
  • A high-speed troop-carrying catamaran from the Australian Defence Force left Darwin to help Darwin to help evacuating people.
  • Jakarta prepared 31 refugee centres in East Nusa Tenggara province to face the growing exodus. Up to 100,000 people may leave.
  • The violence during the past week has pushed both the rupiah and the Jakarta stock market down around 8 per cent.
  • Britain ruled out imposing immediate economic sanctions against Indonesia as IMF said it was worried over the situation.
  • Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad urged Indonesia to accept the wishes of East Timorese who opted for independence. * Australia and the UN told Indonesia that if it did not stop the killings within 48 hours the international community would take steps to end the bloodshed.
  • The UN was drawing up plans for a peacekeeping force of between 5,000 and 7,000 troops. China said it was ‘studying’ proposals for the deployment of international troops.
  • New Zealand put troops, aircraft and equipment on standby to be ready to deploy on a UN-backed mission.
  • European states, including former colonial power Portugal, expressed doubts that martial law would halt bloodshed and called for international intervention.
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