Friday, June 30, 2006

(East Timor Problems) The world must heed the harsh lessons of East Timor

Financial Times (UK)
June 30, 2006
Comment
By ARNOLD KOHEN and LAWRENCE KORB
"The tragic renewal of violence in East Timor and unfolding political crisis there should stimulate a tough reappraisal of the way the world community, not least the US, approaches international peacekeeping. For the sake of the long-suffering people of East Timor- and other peacekeeping operations - it is time to learn from past mistakes.
With a temporary Australian-led force in place, the United Nations Security Council is considering a new peacekeeping effort in East Timor to help maintain order before and after elections next year. One hopes that recent remarks by John Bolton, the US ambassador to the UN, suggesting that Washington may oppose it, are not the last words on this issue.
It is a disturbing reality that peacekeeping missions move according to a logic and schedule that have little to do with the needs of a particular place. They are focused instead on budgets and other international commitments. Every time there is an emergency, a new begging bowl is passed around. In spite of the large demand for troops, few are readily available. And, as the East Timor experience has illustrated, the best expert advice means little if the nations in charge of the mission choose to ignore unpleasant facts. We must find better mechanisms to utilise expert knowledge and reach beyond a small layer of government officials to tap authentic public sentiment.
Several factors, including animosities inside the local security forces and political rivalries, ignited the crisis in East Timor, where 151,000 people have taken refuge in squalid tent cities to avoid further brutality and the possibility of a fresh outbreak of fighting that has killed at least 30 people since April.
But the situation might never have deteriorated so badly if peacekeepers and expert advisers with solid negotiating skills had remained - as they have in Bosnia since 1995 - instead of leaving last year. Historical responsibility cannot be overlooked. Throughout Indonesia's 24-year occupation of East Timor, the US staunchly backed Jakarta both with arms shipments and by blunting criticism in Congress and the UN. But wanting to save money on peacekeeping, the Bush administration pushed for the withdrawal of UN troops as soon as East Timor became independent in 2002. With the eruption of conflict, the folly of this penny-wise, pound-foolish stance is plain.
To the casual observer, East Timor may have seemed peaceful before the recent fighting. After decades of trauma, however, it was far more volatile than it appeared.
East Timor's truth and reconciliation commission has determined that as many as 180,000 people, more than a quarter of the population, perished from the effects of Indonesian rule from 1975 until 1999 when East Timor voted to leave Indonesia and Indonesian-backed militias laid waste to the territory. Torture and rape were widespread.
Many urban youth had been among those tortured. In some instances their torturers were hired for the national police force because they had prior experience in police work under Indonesia. With more than 50 per cent of young people and many veterans of the independence struggle without jobs, East Timor became a tinderbox.
International agencies' officials have sheepishly conceded that job-creating development should have been a higher priority, especially in agriculture. As experienced international peacekeepers know, a lack of serious engagement on the economic front will inevitably come back to haunt the international community - precisely what is now reported about Afghanistan.
International donors and a re-structured government must seriously address widespread poverty in East Timor. This should start with reconstruction and other public works projects to engage unemployed veterans and youth, and include support for rural livelihoods.
If a small fraction of the Dollars 1,000bnin annual world military spending were devoted to a permanent fund for international peacekeeping missions, it would be far easier to address the plight of places such as East Timor. If a portion of the peacekeeping budget went to well-targeted economic help, far larger military expenditures to stabilise violent upheavals would be unnecessary next time.
Lawrence Korb, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, was an assistant secretary of defence in the Reagan Administration. Arnold Kohen, international co-ordinator of Global Priorities, an inter-religious initiative to change budget priorities, is author of From the Place of the Dead (St Martins Press, US; Lion, UK)."
Category: Timor-Leste (East Timor)

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