Albion Monitor /News
[Editor's note: See also East Timor Nobel Peace Prize Embarrassment to Clinton for important background on Clinton's Indonesian connections.]

Lawmakers Beg Clinton to Speak on East Timor

by Peter Zirnite

(IPS) WASHINGTON -- Close ties with Jakarta have uniquely positioned Washington to push for a settlement of the conflict in East Timor, but President Bill Clinton must first break his long silence and speak out against human rights abuses occurring in the occupied territory, according to an influential Republican Congressman who recently visited East Timor.

"What I found in East Timor was terror," said Representative Frank Wolf, a member of the House of Representatives' Appropriations Committee and its sub-committee on foreign operations.

Questions "in the minds of the American people and the people of East Timor" whether Washington's silence on East Timor was "bought"
Wolf spoke January 23 as he released a report on his four-day trip to East Timor and Indonesia. Citing the Sudan, Burma, and North Korea, he added that East Timor "is at the bottom of the scale with regards to human rights."

After showing he is interested in resolving the deadly conflict by speaking out against abuses being committed by "our friends," Wolf said Clinton could spur negotiations by appointing a special envoy, such as former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired Gen. Colin Powell.

Wolf stressed that although Washington needs to take advantage of its longstanding friendship with Indonesian officials to force them to the negotiating table, these efforts should not include the threat of economic or military sanctions against Jakarta, which is currently negotiating the purchase of sophisticated U.S. military aircraft.

East Timor was a colony of Portugal until 1975, when Indonesian armed forces occupied the territory. More than 200,000 Timorese have since died as a result of conflict and related disease and starvation.

"What is the Clinton Administration's problem with being sympathetic with human rights in East Timor," asked Wolf. He pointed out that since the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to Carlos Belo, the Roman Catholic Bishop of East Timor, and Timorese resistance leader Jose Ramos-Horta, the United States has lagged behind other countries in denouncing human rights abuses.

Recent revelations that executives from the Lippo Group and other Indonesian businesses pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into Democratic campaign coffers, much of it illegally, have raised questions "in the minds of the American people and the people of East Timor" whether Washington's silence on East Timor was "bought," Wolf said.

These doubts would be eliminated, if Clinton began speaking out against on-going human rights abuses, he added.

"If something isn't done to defuse tensions," he said, "there is no telling what the circumstances will be"
The Virginia lawmaker, however, conceded that the maintenance of close ties with Jakarta has been a bipartisan policy objective for decades. "We have always had a good relationship with Indonesia, he said."

As a result of these ties, and Washington's position as "leader of the free world," Wolf said, "the United States is uniquely positioned" to forge a settlement.

Although he said Washington should "encourage" current U.N. efforts to broker an accord between Indonesia and the East Timorese, Wolf called on the United States to pursue a parallel negotiating track that would also involve officials from Portugal and Germany, which enjoys "very good relations" with Jakarta.

Key to such diplomatic efforts would be the appointment of a special envoy, according to Wolf, who suggested that Clinton name Powell, who is "highly thought of in Indonesia," to such a post.

Rather than "just somebody you pick out of a hat and throw out there," he said, the President needs to chose an envoy who is "a military person" or has "a military background," because it would be easier for them to negotiate with ruling military regime of Indonesian President Suharto.

Wolf failed to define what the ultimate goal of such negotiations would be, except to say they would be aimed at reducing current tensions in East Timor. "If something isn't done to defuse it," he said, "there is no telling what the circumstances will be."

In seeking a settlement in East Timor, however, U.S. officials should not threaten to revoke the duty-free treatment Indonesia enjoys for some of its U.S. exports or terminate on-going negotiations to sell F-16 jet fighters to Jarkarta, Wolf stressed.

The threat of sanctions, he said, would be premature because Washington has yet to pursue negotiations that would take advantage of its close ties with Jakarta. Indonesian officials, the congressman predicted, will be anxious to reach an accord because it would "enhance" the "opportunity for more trade" with the United States.

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Albion Monitor January 26, 1997 (

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