The United States and other nations are worried that violence in Indonesia’s West Timor could shatter a U.N.-imposed peace in independent East Timor, U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said on Saturday.
He said there was also concern over whether Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid can and will take control of his country’s military and the militias in Indonesian West Timor who are backed by factions in the armed forces.
“I think the concern on the part of the United States and many other countries right now is whether or not the West Timor situation will deteriorate further and whether the militias will undermine what has been successful as the peacekeeping mission on the part of the U.N. in East Timor,” Cohen told reporters travelling with him in Asia.
There is worry over “whether or not Wahid does, in fact, have control over the military and will hold those accountable who have committed abuses in East Timor,” he added in an interview ahead of a visit to Jakarta for talks on Monday.
Militias in West Timor recently killed three U.N. aid workers near the border with East Timor, which was virtually destroyed after an independence vote there last year. The military stood by while that happened and U.N. troops have kept peace there ever since.
“I am really not in a position to make a judgment on that,” Cohen said when asked whether he felt Wahid could put the powerful military under complete civilian control and make it accountable for atrocities in East Timor.
“I think he has to. And I think it’s clear that the international community is looking very carefully and closely at what is taking place in Indonesia,” the secretary said.
“Everyone in this region recognizes that the military will continue to play an important role in maintaining stability in Indonesia, but that also there needs to be accountability,” he added.
“And, hopefully, that accountability assessment can take place on the part of the Indonesian government rather than having it imposed or externally created.”
He referred to threats from some western officials that the U.N. might set up a war crimes tribunal to look into the East Timor devastation if Jakarta does not make the military accountable.
“I think that he (Wahid) has an opportunity to demonstrate that he is in charge and is in control and can help really reduce and eliminate the militias in West Timor from causing the kind of havoc that they have been causing recently,” Cohen said.
The secretary said it was also very important for the West to support a united Indonesia and not to take sides with other factions and areas seeking independence from that heavily populated and mostly Muslim country.
Cohen spoke to reporters travelling with him on the second leg of a six-nation Asia Pacific trip which will take him to Jakarta with Wahid, the Indonesian Defense Minister Mahfud M.D. and armed forces chief Admiral Widodo Adi Sutjipto.