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Assistant Secretary Roth Feb. 10 Testimony on East Timor

Originally published
The United States, working along with the international community, should continue to aid East Timor in building democracy and economic prosperity, says Stanley O. Roth, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

Roth outlined the major challenges facing East Timor during testimony delivered February 10 before a joint hearing of the House International Relations Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific and the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

Among these challenges are building a new East Timor, resolving the fate of remaining refugees in West Timor and ensuring accountability for past atrocities, according to Roth.

"We are working with East Timor and others in the international community to establish the basis for a sustainable economy and government for independence," Roth said. He noted that the World Bank and the United Nations have estimated it will require $300 million in development assistance over the next three years in order to address realistically these problems. To date, the December Tokyo Pledging Conference for East Timor has committed $148 million in humanitarian assistance, with about half of that sum coming from the United States in refugee and disaster assistance funding, Roth said.

Through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the United States has been a leading contributor to the development of East Timor since 1994, according to Roth, and plans to expand successful projects already in place with the $25 million provided by the U.S. Congress in the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2000.

The United States is also contributing personnel and financial assistance to the UN Assistance Mission in East Timor to handle peacekeeping and policing needs, he said.

Roth was accompanied at the hearing by C. David Welch, assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs. Roth's testimony was submitted for both officials.

Following is the text of the testimony, as prepared for delivery:

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Testimony before The House International Relations Asia Pacific Subcommittee and The Senate Foreign Relations East Asian and Pacific Subcommittee On Conditions and Prospects in East Timor

By Stanley O. Roth, Assistant Secretary of State For East Asian and Pacific Affairs

C. David Welch, Assistant Secretary of State, For International Organization Affairs

February 10, 2000

Mr. Chairmen, it is an honor to testify before this joint hearing of your two subcommittees. This is only the second such hearing that I know of, the first being last September's hearing at which Under Secretary Pickering testified. That makes it all the more striking that both hearings addressed the same issue - developments in East Timor.

A Tumultuous Year

The events of the past year in East Timor have been tumultuous, heart-breaking and yet full of hope. A little over a year ago, there seemed little chance of a resolution of the twenty-five year Indonesian occupation of East Timor. But, Indonesian President Habibie's referendum proposal last January broke that impasse. By May, Indonesia, Portugal and the United Nations had agreed upon a mechanism for the people of East Timor to choose between autonomy under Indonesia or a chance of independence. The UN Security Council established the UN Mission in East Timor (UNAMET). On August 30, almost 99 percent of eligible East Timorese voters went to the polls and 78.5 percent voted against remaining part of Indonesia. That remarkable vote occurred despite continuing intimidation by opponents of independence sanctioned by elements of the Indonesian military.

On September 4, UNAMET announced the results of the August 30 poll. In the days immediately following, pro-integration militias, backed by elements of the Indonesian military, unleashed a wave of violence against the people of East Timor. Hundreds were murdered, many were raped. Whole villages were leveled. An estimated 250,000 East Timorese were forced into exile in West Timor. The magnitude of this exile is painfully apparent in context of a total East Timorese population of approximately 800,000. Many others fled their homes into the mountains to escape this tidal wave of bitter retribution. Roughly a third to a half of those who were driven into West Timor were collected in camps where they were subjected to continuing intimidation by pro-integration militias, backed by elements of the Indonesian military. Almost all surviving East Timorese, whether they remained in their homes, hid in the mountains or lived in exile camps suffered disease and malnutrition.

These conditions raised great concern in the international community. Over the course of several weeks from late August to early September, the President consulted urgently and regularly with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Australian Prime Minister Howard and several other world leaders in an effort to forge a common response. During the week of September 6, the President urged the Indonesian Government publicly to accept international peacekeepers, stating on September 9 that it was now clear the Indonesian military was abetting violence. At the same time, he indicated, first to Australian Prime Minister Howard and then publicly that the U.S. was prepared to provide tangible support to the Australian-lead force in its effort to restore order.

The Security Council authorized an international force in order to restore peace and security in East Timor; and protect and support the UN Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) in carrying out its tasks. They were empowered, within force capabilities, to facilitate humanitarian assistance operations and enable refugees and internally displaced people (IDP's) to return to their homes. That force, the International Force in East Timor (INTERFET), was ably organized by Australia and led by Australian General Peter Cosgrove. It included the active participation of a number of other countries from the region, including the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand and Thailand, which provided the deputy commander, Lieutenant Songkitti. While the U.S. did not contribute combat forces, we did provide significant logistical, transportation, communications, intelligence and other support for INTERFET operations.

In October, the Indonesian People's Consultative Assembly acknowledged the results of the referendum when it voted to "separate" East Timor from Indonesia and return control of the territory to the United Nations. Shortly thereafter, the new president of Indonesia, Abdurrahman Wahid (also known by his honorific name Gus Dur), confirmed that his new government would honor that decision. That decision set the stage for the United Nations to assume control over East Timor in order to help the people of East Timor build a new independent nation.

On October 25, 1999, the United Nations Security Council established a new mandate for its operations in East Timor. The United Nations Transitional Administration for East Timor (UNTAET), which replaced UNAMET, was directed to provide overall administration of East Timor, guide the people of East Timor in the establishment of a new democratic government, and maintain the security which had been provided by INTERFET since September.

Current Situation

Since INTERFET deployed in East Timor, militia violence there has effectively ended. There have been several clashes between INTERFET forces and militias operating out of West Timor. However, within East Timor, most of the militias have either disbanded or fled to West Timor. This reimposition of order has occurred with no INTERFET fatalities and few casualties. We remain very concerned, however, about recent militia attacks on the borders of the East Timor enclave of Ambeno/Oecussi.

An estimated 135,000 or approximately half of those driven into exile in West Timor have returned. Regrettably, this has not been a smooth process. Instead, it has required considerable pressure from both the United States and the rest of the international community. Assistant Secretary Julia Taft and Assistant Secretary Harold Koh made separate trips to East Timor to try to expedite the return of the refugees, as did Mrs. Ogata (the head of the UNHCR). Subsequently, our Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke and Assistant Secretary Roth traveled to these camps in December to see conditions first-hand and to increase the pressure on Indonesia to open the camps and assist in the safe return of refugees to East Timor.

In the course of the past week, the peacekeeping component of UNTAET has begun operations on the ground in East Timor, taking over security responsibilities from INTERFET. (This transition is due to be completed on 28 February.) The PKO component is led by General Jaime De Los Santos from the Philippines. Throughout the planning for UNTAET, we have strongly supported the interest of nations in the region, especially ASEAN nations, in playing a leading role in reestablishing the peace in East Timor. The agreement of Thailand's Lieutenant General Songkitti to serve as deputy to General Cosgrove was an important step, and we supported the interest of Asian, particularly ASEAN nations in providing the commander for the second phase of military operations in East Timor. For that reason, we particularly welcome the appointment of General De Los Santos to head the military component of UNTAET.

We have also welcomed the appointment of Sergio Vieira De Mello as the UN Transitional Administrator and overall coordinator for the second phase of UN operations in East Timor. He brings a wealth of experience and a record of success. His arrival in East Timor several months ago helped usher in a new spirit of cooperation between the UN agencies there and the people of East Timor and their leaders.

With security reestablished on the ground and the most acute humanitarian emergency period drawing to a close, East Timorese have now begun rebuilding their devastated economy and infrastructure with the support of the international community. Food has been brought in and distributed so that hunger and malnutrition are no longer a daily danger for the bulk of the East Timorese people. Homes are being rebuilt; education, agriculture, and basic health services are being rehabilitated. The U.S. Government has made very significant contributions to those efforts, providing as much as half of humanitarian aid in some sectors.

Finally, an encouraging start has been made in the process of repairing Indonesia-Timor relations. The invitation by President Wahid to Xanana Gusmao to visit Jakarta to meet with his government, and Gusmao's successful visit in November will be seen, we hope, as the symbolic inauguration of cooperative ties between these two neighbors. President Wahid has agreed to a return visit to East Timor, which will help cement these two on the path to reconciliation.

Significant Challenges Remain

Despite the pain and suffering of the past year, the people of East Timor and those in the international community who support them have accomplished extraordinary feats. Nonetheless, significant challenges remain. How we respond to those challenges will be as important for the future of East Timor as the challenges surmounted in the year past.

-- Building Institutions and Prosperity in East Timor

The first challenge is to build a self-sustaining society in East Timor. This is a formidable task requiring starting almost from scratch on many basic services and institutions. Even before the devastation visited upon East Timor in September of last year, its people lived in difficult circumstances. East Timor has few natural resources; the climate and soil make it difficult to grow sufficient foodstuffs to be self-sustaining, much less produce for exports. Coffee production, which USAID has helped develop over a number of years, offers one of the few good hopes for a significant export crop.

The rampage of militias in East Timor after September 4 last year made this difficult situation worse. They destroyed or severely damaged 60 to 80 percent of public and private property across East Timor. Most hospitals and health centers, as well as schools and other public buildings and utilities, have been destroyed. After 1975, virtually all doctors, teachers and civil servants in East Timor were Indonesians. The great majority of these individuals fled either in the run up to or in the days following the August 30 balloting. Now, the economy is at a near standstill; unemployment is perilously close to universal. Regrettably, but not surprisingly, crime and lawlessness are increasingly serious problems.

-- Ending Intimidation in West Timor

Significant challenges remain in our effort to ensure that the remaining refugees in West Timor camps and towns who want to return to East Timor can do so. Despite repeated reassurances, the Government of Indonesia has not reestablished adequate control in the camps nor halted definitively the activities of East Timor militia groups there. Militias are still conducting armed training and harassing pro-independence East Timorese who want to return home.

It is difficult to assess how many of the 100,000-plus remaining refugees do want to return home to East Timor. Many -- militia members, Indonesians and East Timorese who served in the Indonesian government in East Timor or had opposed independence, and others who are simply unsure of what life in East Timor holds for them -- may well choose to remain in West Timor or to go elsewhere in Indonesia. Indeed, some experts believe that a majority of the remaining refugees in West Timor do not want to return home at the present time. If some do choose to remain in Indonesia, the Indonesian Government must take steps to integrate them into society, not leave them in refugee camps. We will continue to press the Indonesian Government to re-deploy military elements and to craft near-term effective options for resettlement of those who choose not to return. And, pending the return of refugees, we need to ensure that basic humanitarian relief continues to get to them in West Timor.

Nevertheless, it is equally clear that tens of thousands do want to return. We will continue to insist that this group of refugees be able to exercise its right of return without hindrance or intimidation.

-- Ensuring Accountability

In September the United Nations and the Government of Indonesia launched separate efforts which sought, in the words of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, "to gather and compile systematically information on possible violations of human rights and acts which might constitute breaches of international humanitarian law committed in East Timor since January, 1999."

Both have recently submitted their reports. While we have seen only informal translations and press reports of the Indonesian report, both the UN and Indonesian reports make grim reading. They detail many of the brutal acts that occurred in East Timor over the past year. The report by the Indonesian Commission of Inquiry identifies, 33 specific individuals whom it recommended the Attorney General further investigate. Those who produced both reports are to be commended. Only through credible, thorough and transparent investigations like these can the facts about the atrocities that took place in East Timor be established.

As Indonesia and the UN move forward to ensure accountability, two principles will govern the United States response to these reports and the actions that follow from them:

First, there must be real accountability both for those who directed and those who carried out the carnage in East Timor over the past year.

Second, the Government of Indonesia now has a critical opportunity to undertake the investigative and judicial processes that will demonstrate their own capability to achieve genuine accountability.

In issuing the UN report, Kofi Annan expressed support for the effort conducted by the Indonesians themselves. We believe that such support is appropriate, provided that Indonesia carries through on its commitment. Let us be clear: a strong vigorous report is an important first step, but only a first step. Results must follow. If they do not, then international public opinion will increasingly demand an international mechanism to ensure accountability.

U.S. Policy -- Meeting the Challenges

These then are the challenges that we face: building a new East Timor, resolving the fate of remaining refugees in West Timor and ensuring accountability for past atrocities. Working together with East Timor and other concerned countries, we are responding.

We are working with East Timor and others in the international community to establish the basis for a sustainable economy and government for independence. The World Bank and the UN have estimated that it will require $300 million in development assistance over the next three years in order to address realistically these problems. The December Tokyo Pledging Conference for East Timor took a major step toward meeting the estimated development need and also committed $148 million in humanitarian assistance (roughly half of that was from the U.S. in refugee and disaster assistance funding).

Through USAID, the U.S. has been a leading contributor to the development of East Timor since 1994. As a result of AID's funding an extremely successful coffee cooperative project, small farmers have been able to enter the cash economy and earn foreign exchange. To help prepare East Timor for full independence, USAID will expand this project in addition to funding new community-led projects aimed at developing East Timor's capacity for democratic self-government, improving local civil administration, and building police capabilities. The Congress's provision of $25 million made in the Consolidated Appropriations Act for FY 2000 will help ensure that we are able undertake these and other important efforts, such as assistance in the human rights and judicial training areas, in concert with the East Timorese people.

Within this allocation, we also plan to contribute $4 million to the UNTAET Trust Fund to fund East Timorese civil administration salaries and other recurrent, non-development type costs. In addition, $.5 million will go to the World Bank Trust Fund for longer term reconstruction and development efforts. Our allies have already pledged to contribute a total of $31.9 million to the UNTAET Trust Fund and $147 million to the World Bank Trust Fund. An additional $37.1 million in pledges will be split between the two funds as needed. For the UNTAET peacekeeping operation, which is funded separately from UNTAET's "nation-building" activities, we anticipate an assessment of $196 million.

Security in East Timor has both a peacekeeping dimension and a police dimension. Thanks to the successful performance of the Australian-led, multinational peacekeeping operation INTERFET, the stage has been set for the transfer of security responsibilities to the UN peacekeeping operation UNTAET.

Beginning in June 1999, the US contributed 30 police to the UN Assistance Mission in East Timor (UNAMET). With the establishment of UNTAET, which authorized a total force of 1640 armed international civilian police, with executive authority (to provide public security and have powers of arrest) as part of its mandate, our contribution was increased to 45. We are considering further increasing our level of civilian police participation and have allocated $8.5 million in Peacekeeping Operations funds for this purpose.

The UNTAET Mandate also calls for CIVPOL to develop and train an East Timorese police force, and a number of the US officers deployed to East Timor have backgrounds in specialty areas that will be useful in this effort. Currently, the level of continued US CIVPOL support for UNTAET is being considered, along with options for assisting with training the new East Timorese police force and establishing a criminal justice system.

Twenty-three nations have signed up to contribute personnel to UNTAET's approximately 8,300-strong peacekeeping force. These include almost all INTERFET-contributing nations, as well as five new nations -- Fiji, Bangladesh, Chile, Pakistan and Portugal. Current estimates are that about 70% of INTERFET troops will remain for service in UNTAET. The UNTAET force thus is not coming into East Timor "cold." On the contrary, the UNTAET force will immediately consist largely of former INTERFET troops who are already experienced and knowledgeable about operations in East Timor.

As for a post-INTERFET U.S. military presence in the East Timor region, we are considering a small liaison presence that would enable us to take advantage of U.S. rotational exercises in the Pacific to conduct humanitarian and civic assistance programs in East Timor. We do not envision U.S. military units serving in the UN peacekeeping force, although we are considering a contribution of up to four individual officers to serve in the UN mission as military observers or in staff positions.

As soon as our consultations are completed, and the President has made a determination, we of course will provide you with more information.


The road that East Timor has traveled over the past year has been rough, yet it has also been triumphant. Serious challenges remain before East Timor emerges as an economically viable and democratic society. East Timor would not have come this far without our support, and it will continue to need our support to meet the challenges ahead. With support from the United States and the international community, I am confident that East Timor will meet the challenges ahead. We must continue to do what we can to help. (end text)

(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: