East Timor's history ignored

JAKARTA (JP): The results associated with the rapid development of East Timor included an increase in the local population's health status and survival rate. The number of children entering their teenage years increased rapidly. Despite immense amount of funds poured into the province, the size of the local economy was not large enough to absorb an increased labor force.

Evidence showed that in the early 1990s, unemployment in East Timor amongEast Timorese youth was quite high. Many of them could not be absorbed by the local economy. This anomaly was due to a population boom, particularly as a result of the generation born before and during the invasion of those who had survived. They demanded a better life as a result of their improvededucation and had developed a better awareness of their rights.

The demographic changes had obviously worried government officials at thecentral level. Social safety valve strategies were hurriedly introduced.

One strategy was to introduce a continuing education scheme for East Timorese. The youths were encouraged to pursue higher education. The schemewas meant not only to improve the quality of the local human resources, butalso to delay the demographic pressures entering the labor market. Another strategy was the offer of jobs to qualified East Timorese from some state enterprises. However, only a few qualified East Timorese were absorbed in the labor market outside East Timor.

Unfortunately, the schemes were not packaged and disseminated widely to the public. Consequently, many did not understand and appreciate the strategy. Dissatisfaction among youths continued to rise. These social disorders apparently affected the growth capacity of the local economy. Themass of the local indigenous economy remained small.

In order to maintain a conducive climate for development, the government had warranted national stability as a political scheme. In conjunction withthese efforts, security measures were also imposed in East Timor. In order to maintain internal security, the Armed Forces helped the local governmentquell local threats.

At that time, the government had always maintained that local disturbances should not get out of hand because they could become a threat to the entire nation. The antiquated assumptions against insurgencies and disturbances developed from the experience of low economic development levels in the 1950s and 1960s.

Similar disciplinary actions may have been implemented throughout Indonesia by local authorities. But in East Timor, the same disciplinary action was received by some with hatred. The division worsened when the churches became deeply involved; they interpreted these actions as an act of oppression toward a minority group. Soldiers who were defending the Republic with their own lives were seen as human rights violators. There isless media exposure on the fate of soldiers on a military mission than on alleged human rights abuses.

Similar responses are exacted from soldiers in other countries when they try to defend their countries from the threat of attack. To take a few examples, Filipino soldiers fought back when they were attacked by Moslem insurgent groups. American soldiers even reacted with abuse during the Vietnam war as in the infamous My Lai massacre. An over reaction on the part of Israeli soldiers toward Palestinian civilians was also found. Yet, these actions were generally considered appropriate.

All of a sudden, poorly informed UN officials heard the cry for ""help"" from the affected East Timorese. A series of fact-finding visits by foreigndignitaries, U.S. senators and congressmen and UN negotiators hurt the Indonesians more than the help it purported to offer. The Indonesian diplomats were only armed with their ""smiles"" which led to nowhere. Had theinternational community put their feet in the shoes of the Indonesians, ill-advised pressure would not have been imposed on the Indonesian government.

The world body had been successful in denying Indonesia recognition of East Timor as part of Indonesia. This was reversed when an Indonesian official sent confusing signals with regards to the East Timor issue by agreeing to put the matter to a ballot. Tagging prointegration proponents as troublemakers did not encourage Indonesian leaders to put up a diplomatic fight to retain East Timor. A few months ago, the same person who confirmed the integration of East Timor as Indonesia's 27th province abandoned this stand. No wonder, the prointegrationists out of control actions reflects feelings of abandonment.

Indonesians should have emulated the ASEAN commitment to achieve harmony in East Timor. After all, Indonesia was committed to ensuring regional security. Peace in the region had been achieved through Indonesia's active involvement in peacekeeping efforts in Cambodia and the Philippines. The country's achievement of relative harmony and peace in East Timor in theselast years was wrested by outsiders from the ASEAN region.

Indonesians should learn from history how a country disintegrates. After the Soviet Union introduced Perestroika, the integrity of the European communist countries began to collapse. New countries were born. The Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia disappeared from the world map. The part of Yugoslavia that refused to comply with disintegration efforts was deemed a Serbian ethnic cleansing scheme. Will Indonesian be next on the disintegration and disintegrated agenda?

The presence of Rapid Deployment Forces close to the East Timor's southern border implies a possibility of foreign intervention in the event that Indonesia does not compromise. Unfortunately, our politicians were busy with issues on the distribution of election seats, and the government,trying hard to be associated with populist moves, forgot the importance ofthis threat. This is in contrast to our ASEAN friends' minimum reaction toward the East Timor issue, which shows respect for the sovereignty of theRepublic of Indonesia.

The escalated conflict in East Timor could have been avoided, had the international community been willing to respect the background of the Indonesian presence in East Timor. The underlying fact is that the move wasnot an act of colonization. The Indonesians were invited to help stop the bloodshed in 1975 that threatened to spill over its boundaries, a move thatwould have won approval even from human rights proponents then. The heart of the issue is the perceived inequitable development, the unequal capacityto compete for local opportunities, and an absence of cultural sensitivity on the part of some individuals in the government and local settlers.

In conclusion, all Indonesians, including all our brothers and sisters inEast Timor, should wake up and resolve to solve threats toward national disintegration. The lower rupiah value means loss of the people's trust in the economy, but it should not result in a loss of nationalism. With doublestandards around the globe, what is justifiable for one country may not be seen as such in another. The conflict in Northern Ireland between Catholicsand Protestants and in the Middle East between Israelis and Palestinians isjust the same wine in different bottles.

The writer is a social and economic observer.

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