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|Transcript of Press Conference of Secretary-General Kofi Annan
At Headquarters, 10 September
NEW YORK, 10 September (UN Headquarters) --
The Secretary-General: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It has been a difficult couple of weeks for all of us, but before the eyes of the world the people of East Timor are being terrorized and massacred because they exercised their right of self-determination in a ballot organized by the United Nations under an agreement reached with my help between Portugal, the former colonial Power, and Indonesia, the currently occupying Power. This agreement was supported by the East Timorese leaders.
Under that agreement, Indonesia had the responsibility to maintain order and security in the Territory during and after the ballot until the results had been accepted by the new Indonesian Parliament.
East Timor is descending into anarchy. The anti-independence militias, who were overwhelmingly defeated at the ballot box, have engaged in an orgy of looting, burning and killing. I have been in frequent contact with the President of Indonesia, urging him to bring the situation under control, but it continues to deteriorate. Hundreds of thousands of East Timorese have had to abandon their homes. Many of them have been forcibly relocated to West Timor and other parts of Indonesia. The fate of many others is unknown.
The United Nations Mission in East Timor has been forced, on security grounds, to evacuate 12 of its 13 regional centres and to concentrate its remaining presence in Dili. In the process, UNAMET has been subjected to repeated threats. Several of our local staff have been murdered; one of our civilian police has been wounded. Live rounds have been fired into our premises in Bacau at body height. It was for that reason that I authorized Ian Martin, the head of the Mission, to move all local staff, with their dependents, and non-essential international staff from Dili to Darwin. They were evacuated successfully yesterday.
Last night, there was a new incident at our compound and at the adjoining school compound. Militias fired their weapons in the air and threatened to invade the UNAMET compound itself. Yet the Indonesian forces who were supposed to be protecting the compound did nothing. So far, they have been either unable or unwilling to take effective steps to restore security. Therefore I am remaining in hourly contact with Mr. Martin while awaiting the outcome of the Security Council mission tomorrow. We are keeping the situation under constant review, and I am ready to take any decision necessary to ensure the safety of United Nations personnel.
At the same time, I remain deeply concerned about the fate of the internally displaced persons who are still in the UNAMET compound and the adjoining school compound. We shall continue to examine urgently what can be done to ensure the security of this unfortunate group. I know, not least because of the thousands of messages I have received from all over the world in the past few days, that many people believe that the United Nations is abandoning the people of East Timor in their hour of greatest need. Let me assure you most emphatically that this is not the case. But the situation has clearly got far beyond what a small mission, which was sent to organize a popular vote and never equipped, or mandated, to enforce law and order, can possibly be expected to do.
The time has clearly come for Indonesia to seek help from the international community in fulfilling its responsibility to bring order and security to the people of East Timor and to allow those who have been displaced to return home in safety. A number of Governments in the region, including Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines and Malaysia, have assured me of their willingness to participate in an international force for this purpose. Australia, in particular, has made a very substantial commitment and at my request has also agreed to take the lead. I am deeply grateful to Prime Minister Howard and indeed to all of the Governments involved.
I urge the Indonesian Government to accept their offer of help without further delay. If it refuses to do so, it cannot escape the responsibility of what could amount -- according to reports reaching us -C to crimes against humanity. In any event, those responsible for these crimes must be called to account.
East Timor is at a moment of great crisis, danger and uncertainty. But let us not forget that its people have been enabled to register and vote in overwhelming numbers to decide, for the first time in their history, what they want their future to be. The international community has a responsibility to see that their wishes are respected and that violence is not allowed to dictate the outcome.
Question: After all we have seen in the past few weeks in East Timor, are we about to see an intervention of the sort that is taking place in Kosovo?
The Secretary-General: That is an interesting question. So far, the Governments whom I have discussed are not thinking along those lines, but I think we should all put collective pressure on Indonesia, given that it has failed in its commitment to assure security, to accept assistance from the international community to stop the killing. I appeal honestly to the Government of Indonesia to accept this offer.
I know you are making comparisons with what happened in Kosovo and what has happened elsewhere, and I do not think your analogy is completely irrelevant.
Question: Would you say that the Indonesian Government or military appears to be unwilling or unable to maintain law and order? The United States President said today that it is now clear that the Indonesian military is aiding and abetting in the East Timorese violence. Are you prepared to reach the same conclusion? Is the United Nations prepared to drop the “unable” and to keep the “unwilling”?
The Secretary-General: I think what is important here, and in my statement it was very clear by stating that, even when the compound was attacked, the military did nothing. I think that statement speaks for itself. This is why I feel they have failed in their duty and they should accept help.
Question: The work here at the United Nations to get this vote has been painstaking and took a long time. There was a lot of hard work. Do you think, looking back, that there was anything else that could have been done to try to create a different outcome from what's happening right now?
The Secretary-General: Let me say that the United Nations was not naive about the history of violence in East Timor during the past 24 years. As part of the agreement, the Indonesian Government insisted -- a Government that has occupied the Territory for 24 years -- that it had the capacity to assure security, that it would not accept a peacekeeping force and that it would do it by itself. We saw, on the day of the vote, on 30 August, that they were able to assure security for the vote to go forward. Why haven't they maintained that effort for one to be able to move on to effective implementation of the results of the ballot?
I know there are people who, in hindsight, are saying one should have gone in with a force, that the United Nations should not have accepted the word of the Indonesians that they would maintain law and order. When you are moving forward in this sort of negotiation, where you have had 24 years of impasse, you get to the stage where, for example, if we had not accepted and insisted that they should maintain order, we probably would never have had the vote. Everybody thought they would deliver. Nobody in his wildest dreams thought that what we are witnessing could have happened -- I don't think even the press or anyone. I know that we knew it was going to be difficult. We knew there were security problems, but not the carnage and the chaos we have seen, with the military and police totally unable or incapable of doing anything.
I can assure you that, if those who were putting together the deal -- and you must remember that the agreement was signed by Portugal and Indonesia, with the support of the leaders, unanimously endorsed by the Council -- if any of us had an inkling that it was going to be this chaotic, I don't think anyone would have gone forward. We are no fools.
Question: You said that the analogy was not appropriate between what had happened...
The Secretary-General: No, I did not say it was not appropriate. I said that the comparison may be appropriate. I did not say it was inappropriate.
Question: What I would like to ask is another thing. What seems to be the case here is that there is a dichotomy between the civilian authority in Indonesia and the military authorities. The latest issue of The Nation magazine says that the emissary who was sent to Washington, a military man, gave completely the wrong message to the Indonesian military -- that they basically said: Go in and do what you have to do.
Given this fact -- and given also the fact that the Pakistanis have a dichotomy between the civilian and the military authorities -- is this a fact that the United Nations ought to recognize? When getting a signed document, perhaps you should get the military to sign?
The Secretary-General: I think we are aware of the possible divisions between them. In fact, in this effort, we have worked both levels. I have been working at the political level with President Habibie and others have been working on General Wiranto. Not just the United Nations staff, but other governments with influence have been asked to work on General Wiranto. And so, in effect, we have been pushing both the military and the political leaders to deliver.
The Indonesian army has lots of equipment. Lots of governments have sold equipment to them. They are supposed to be well trained and should have been in a position to contain a situation like what is happening in East Timor. Obviously, there are concerns that what is happening in East Timor may affect other regions like Aceh and Irian Jaya, but we are not out there to really try and undo Indonesia. Our main concern is East Timor, and I think East Timor has a different history. The others have always been part of Indonesia; East Timor has not. And we know the history of how Indonesia came to occupy East Timor.
Question: For a few days now, over 72 hours, you have been appealing to the Indonesian Government at least to consider two suggestions: either to accept help from the outside or to accept the results of the referendum at an earlier date. So far: nothing. Now, do you think that actions such as the one taken by Washington is the sort of action that you are hoping will exert pressure on Indonesia to respond to you? Do you support these unilateral actions in terms of the pressure you are hoping to exert on the Government of Indonesia?
The Secretary-General: Let me say that I was encouraged by President Clinton's statement and I notice that, today, several other leaders are coming out. I have seen the wires indicating that Prime Minister Blair has spoken. The Pope has spoken. I would also encourage some of the leaders in the region, and I know that some of them have been doing it discreetly behind the scenes. But perhaps we should all double our efforts to encourage and push and press the Indonesian authorities to seek help, because their own reputation and international image are on the line, if not in tatters already.
Question: I meant the action taken by Washington in terms of the military ties between the two countries.
The Secretary-General: I reflected that. I said that I'm encouraged by what the President said. Obviously, we need to make sure that we do not break all contacts and that we have a way of pressuring them to do what is right.
Question: Since there is a sort of dead end on both sides, are there any other, for want of a better term, Acreative ideas coming up, like, for example, an unarmed humanitarian convoy or some other thing that the Indonesians might be able to live with?
The Secretary-General: We have talked about that. In fact, I did discuss this with President Habibie two days ago, that we would want to come back with our humanitarian assistance. He was receptive to the idea, but I did raise the question of security. The aid workers going in must be able to operate in a secure environment which Indonesia would either provide or allow a security unit to come in to protect them.
At that point he said, AI think we are going to be able to bring it under control with the martial law. That has not worked. But at least the idea of humanitarian assistance and the humanitarian workers going in is still open. I would hope that our own staff, who have been withdrawn but who have not left the mission area -- there is temporary redeployment to Darwin -- will be able to go back as soon as the situation improves and their security can be assured. But we are pursuing the humanitarian angle very actively.
Question: You mentioned the possibility that some of the acts committed in East Timor constitute crimes against humanity. Would you be willing at this stage to recommend to the Security Council the creation of an ad hoc tribunal to investigate the possibility of crimes against humanity?
The Secretary-General: I think that that may be a bit premature. As I indicated, I am basing my statement on reports reaching us. But one will have to do further investigation to be able to do that. But that may not be excluded. But at this stage I am not ready to do that.
Question: Can you shed more light for us on exactly what the Security Council mission is doing in Indonesia at this point?
The Secretary-General: The Security Council mission has had several meetings. They have met with President Habibie, General Wiranto and Foreign Minister Alatas. They have also had the chance to talk to some of the opposition leaders including Mrs. Megawati. They are assessing for themselves the situation on the ground. I should say they have also spoken to Xanana Gusmao, whom I also spoke to last night. They are going to go to Dili tomorrow if the situation permits. I would hope they will also be able to visit our headquarters, assess the situation with our staff and come back and report to the full Council. I probably expect them to be back here on Monday or Tuesday.
Question: Are you ready to push the Security Council to approve a resolution [inaudible] force? You say that certain countries of the region are ready to act. Are other countries, in Europe and the United States, [inaudible] President Clinton?
The Secretary-General: Yes, I have had conversations with President Clinton, and I think you also heard him yesterday. I think that in Washington they are having consultations and I do not think a decision has been taken as to the nature of United States participation -- if it decides to participate. But I have spoken to the President and I know he supports the idea of an international force going in to assist. I have given you the list of those Governments that have made direct commitments to me, and Australia, which I approached some time ago to take the lead. And, as I said, they will make a major commitment. My sense is that other governments will come forward if it gets to a go situation.
Question: There is some indication that the words of President Clinton -- after several days of relative silence -- are maybe having some effect. Do you feel that they should ratchet up the pressure now and include cutting off arms sales to Indonesia? My second question is, do you feel personally betrayed by the Indonesian Government?
The Secretary-General: I do not know if I can advise Washington about cutting off arms sales. But I think that, indeed, has been done. If they are going to cut off all military relationships, I presume that it would include arms sales, which is a crucial…
The Secretary-General: It is not included? Well then, if it does not include arms sales, it is a bit surprising, because quite frankly the question of military relationships between countries -- apart from security arrangements -- often depends on military sales and the supply of military equipment. So I hope that they will look at that.
Question: My second question is: do you feel betrayed by the Indonesians, personally?
The Secretary-General: I do not know if betrayal is the right word. I am shocked by what has happened, and I think we are all amazed that this could happen and that a Government with such a large army is so unable to bring the situation under control, and that a Government that has occupied that Territory for 24 years and knows the region, knows the people, knows their tendencies is not able to do this. I am pained and I am deeply disappointed that this has happened, above all for the East Timorese people, who for the first time in 24 years got a chance to express themselves and speak eloquently and loudly as to what they want their destiny to be. Suddenly they are in a sea of violence and in a very chaotic situation. I feel very sorry for them. Their leader is now in the British Embassy. This is the time when he should be there, talking to his people and preparing for the future. That is why I believe we should not allow the militia and their supporters, whoever they may be, to undo the results of the ballot with violence. The people have voted, and the results must stand. It should not be undone with violence.
Question: Why are we still seeking the consent of Indonesia? Under international law the country in charge of this Territory is still Portugal. Why is it not possible, given all these facts, just to tell Indonesia in a simple resolution to leave East Timor, to respect the will, freely expressed, of that people, and allow an international force to go in? Why cannot we do that? Could you comment on the words of the Portuguese representative in Jakarta, who said that, behaving so, the Council is being an accomplice?
The Secretary-General: Let me say that not even Portugal has suggested what you are suggesting: that Portugal is the country in charge at this stage in history and that all that we need is either Portuguese permission or to say that Indonesia does not have a legitimacy in its claim over East Timor. The fact is that for 24 years it has run East Timor. De facto, it is a Government in East Timor. And if that was not the case we would not have gone through the exercise that we went through with the ballot, trying to [find out if they wanted to] separate from Indonesia. So we have accepted that they are the authority in East Timor. The question of not just going in is very simple. To go in, you must have a force, and Governments must be prepared to go in. We all talk of the United Nations and the international community. The international community is Governments -- Governments with the capacity and the will to act. The Governments have made it clear that it will be too dangerous to go in. And they will not do it without -- if you wish -- the consent of Indonesia. That is why I believe that Indonesia must be pressured to change its mind and let them come in. That is the only way you are going to be able to get the troops to go in to be able to assist: we have to bring collective pressure to bear. Indonesia has to admit it has failed and it needs help. And all the pressure that we can put on them to change their mind will, I think, be helpful.
Question: What was the intent of those who fired on the compound last night? Did they intend to seize the internally displaced persons inside?
The Secretary-General: I do not know what the intent was, but I think it is part of the politics of intimidation, and to intimidate. We still have a substantial number of staff there. As you know, we have not closed our office and pulled out all our staff. We have almost 100 United Nations staff in the building. Apparently they did take some vehicles -- I think Fred [Eckhard] can give you the details of that. But basically, I would say it was intimidation.
Question: Have you spoken to President Habibie since the attack on the compound? And if so, what kind of explanation did he give for the inaction of the Indonesian forces?
The Secretary-General: I will be speaking to him later today.
Question (spoke in French): It seems that the whole world knows what is happening in East Timor. But my question is: how many deaths will be needed before the international community and the Security Council take action? There have been a lot of words and a lot of deaths.
The Secretary-General (spoke in French): That is a difficult question. I understand -- but as I just said, the Security Council is ready to authorize a force, and I believe that maybe we should even prepare ourselves. Let us hope that the Indonesian Government will accept that the international community can help them. I hope that will happen. Clearly, I understand the frustration. But that is the situation.
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