NOW that there is a possibility that the worst in East Timor may be over, and that the East Timorese will be protected by a United Nations force with the support of the Indonesian Government, it should give us an opportunity to pause and take stock of the problem that East Timor represents.

If, as at one time seemed all too likely, the Indonesian Government refused to allow a UN force into East Timor (though Indoesian sovereignty over the country has never been recognised), there would have been three alternatives: diplomatic pressure, making war on Indonesia cutting off aid. Diplomatic pressure can be useful (as the last few days have shown), but has obvious limitations, while cutting off aid does not work in the short run and in the longer term is likely, like sanctions against Iraq, to hit only the poor and vulnerable. As for war, since the only kind of war which the West is prepared to wage is one in which no Western personnel if possible get killed, that would mean bombing Jakarta and East Timor, which would be bound to make the situation much worse.

We have to accept that there may be in many situations little or nothing useful, we, as a country, can do any more than we can recall to life all those who have already died in East Timor. But there is one thing that as a country we can always do: avoid the creation of unnecessary suffering ourselves. In Iraq we are engaging in an unauthorised and continuous bombing campaign, which is killing ordinary Iraqi people: let us stop it. In Iraq too we are helping to kill several thousands Iraqi children a month by our support for a cruel policy of sanctions. Let us withdraw that support. We smashed up Yugoslavia, let us stop refusing to take responsibility for that and rebuild it whether Milosevic remains in power or not. We sold Hawk jets to the Indonesians though we knew that they were being used to terrorise the East Timorese. Let us stop the accursed arms trade across the board.

Malcolm Pittock

St James Avenue


Converted for the new archive on 14 July 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.