The Peace Process for East Timor
Reflections from a visit to Jakarta and Dili, August 5 - 13, 1998,
by Professor Peter Wallensteen and Assistant Professor Kjell-Åke
Nordquist, both from the Department of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala
University, Uppsala, Sweden.
With the new government in Indonesia, May 22, 1998, a more
constructive peace process has become possible for East Timor. In order to
independently assess the situation, we visited Indonesia and East Timor,
August 5-13, 1998.
The visit included contacts with Indonesian and East Timorese officials
(e.g. Indonesia's Minister of Education, the Governor of East Timor),
university researchers, teachers and students, NGOs in the field of
democracy and development, and leaders of different organizations,
primarily in East Timor.
In the following some conclusions are drawn from our discussions,
hopefully relevant for the on-going peace process. In doing this we take
note of the communiqué from the New York tripartite meeting on
August 4-5, 1998.
1. The parties to the present peace process are Indonesia, Portugal and the
UN, through its Secretary-General. This tripartite format expresses the
perception of the international community as to the conflict over East
Timor. It is an international issue, and rightly so, relating to the
de-colonization process. It is apparent, however, that the many years of
annexation into Indonesia also has given the conflict other dimensions,
notably intra-Indonesian, as well as intra-Timorese. These need to be
considered as part of a peace process.
As noted in the New York communiqué a key party to a future peace
is the population in East Timor itself. In the present peace process, the
population is only attached to the process, but not part of it.
According to the New York communiqué, the UN Secretary-General was
entrusted with the task of consulting the East Timorese views "in East
Timor and outside". The Secretary-General visited Lisbon, for a
discussion with, among others, Bishop Belo of East Timor.
It is our understanding, from the study of other peace processes as well
as from an assessment of the present situation, that a durable peace agreement
has to be firmly understood and rooted locally, i.e. in East Timor, as
well as with the Indonesian and Portuguese governments. Thus, it appears urgent
to develop a link to the local East Timor opinion. This can easily be
made, as there are informal connections. For instance, a Forum of East Timor
could be established, constituted by members from different parties and
organizations in East Timor. Our view is that the cooperation among the
East Timorese is good, and that old divisions are no longer as strong as
before. To this contributes, for instance, the new, but highly active,
student movement at the University of Dili. Alternatively, a substantial
part of the negotiations could be moved to Dili, with the negotiators
meeting a forum of opinion. Some such meetings have taken place, e.g.
during Ambassador Jamsheed Marker's visit, July 1998, and during the
visit of the EU troika of ambassadors in June, 1998.
2. The key issue, as recognized by all, is the question of self-rule for
East Timor. The government of Indonesia proposes a "wide-ranging autonomy"
where foreign policy, external defense and monetary matters would remain
with the government in Jakarta, whereas all other matters would be in
the hands of East Timor. The autonomy proposition needs very close scrutiny
in order to be effective as a solution to the conflict. There are in
particular three aspects to consider in this context:
a) the special history of the conflict, which makes a special
solution warranted, and, thus, not making the arrangement of East Timor a
precedent for other parts of Indonesia,
b) the international origin of the conflict, which makes it important
that a solution is supported internationally, but also that the
international dimension is preserved for the future, and
c) the democratic dimension, that is, that in a democratizing
Indonesia, and in a post-Cold War consensus on democracy, the
people of East Timor is entitled to give its views on the final status
of the area.
From our experience we believe that these three aspects have to be
reflected in an international agreement on East Timor. It could mean,
for instance, that the autonomous area of East Timor has representation in
the Commonwealth of Portuguese Speaking Nations. It could also include a UN
representation placed in Dili (as envisaged already). It means that the
autonomy administration is carefully constructed and given a reasonable
period of time to function. Finally, it could include that questions of
preservation of the achieved autonomy, stronger integration into
Indonesia, or independence ultimately are to be asked to the population
of East Timor. The options mentioned would be three alternatives that are
logical and reflect different interests. Such a poll could take place
after, say, 10 years, and not be repeated earlier than 10 years later,
and perhaps not take place more than three times.
3. The withdrawal of military troops from East Timor is an important
aspect as indicated in the communiqué. The actions of the
Indonesian troops have been sources of serious conflict, not to say
repression. The ill-feelings are strong and overshadow the civilian
developments that also have taken place. A withdrawal of some troops was
initiated in July and August 1998.
The impact on the local situation seems limited however, and only more
tangible measures are likely to more the situations forwards (e.g.
leaving some barracks, for instance).
The experiences we had during the visit, suggest that an international
presence is important to verify withdrawals, as well as to maintain
security for the inhabitants. Such a withdrawal would, thus, need to
be supplemented with a temporary presence of, for instance, international
civil police, and the building up of an East Timorese police competence,
to gradually take over the functions of the Indonesian counterparts. The
latter process would be part of an autonomy arrangement. If placed under
the auspices of the UN or ASEAN it would meet with general acceptance.
International training might be offered.
4. As part of building confidence, the release of political prisoners is
important. Also the involvement of José Xanana Gusmao in the
negotiation process needs to be raised and solved. The return to East
Timor of Timorese living outside the island would also be welcome.
Unilateral Indonesian actions in this regard would serve to promote the
The present situation in Indonesia and in East Timor has created a climate
which is conducive for change and for new thinking on old issues. This
opportunity needs to be carefully, but urgently used for the settlement
of a conflict that has already gone on too long and led to too much
In this spirit we volunteer these unsolicited suggestions to those
concerned with the future of East Timor. We are, of course, willing to
expand on the different observations made.
Uppsala, Sweden, August 20, 1998
Peter Wallensteen Kjell-Åke Nordquist
Professor Assistant Professor
Department of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University
Box 514, S-751 20 Uppsala, Sweden
Phone +46 (0)18-471 23 46 Fax: +46 (0)18-69 51 02