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Thursday, September 2, 1999 Published at 12:51 GMT 13:51 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

World press condemns Indonesia

Counting underway: Newspapers call for more security

After weeks of fears that the United Nations' sponsored referendum on the future of East Timor would descend into violence, the former Portuguese colony is making headlines in the world's press for all the wrong reasons.

Across every continent, newspaper editorials have called for calm and criticised the Indonesian government for failing to prevent the slide towards anarchy.

Portuguese criticism

In Europe, it is Portugal which reserves the most criticism for the Indonesian authorities.

East Timor
The Jornal de Noticias newspaper comments that: "For Indonesia, East Timor has strong emotional connotations because of the thousands of its soldiers who died in the territory in the 23 years of war.

"But foremost in Jakarta's mind is the fear that, if East Timor becomes independent, it may have to give in to those of its other islands also seeking self-rule."

Turning to the East Timorese themselves, the newspaper comments: "The civic maturity they have shown will see them through to their goal.

"The dignity with which they exercised their right of citizenship has earned them the sympathy and admiration of the entire world."

[ image: Respect result: Newspapers call on Jakarta to adhere to result]
Respect result: Newspapers call on Jakarta to adhere to result
Belgium's Le Soir newspaper said that thousands were now suffering at the hands of the pro-Indonesian militias on the rampage in the capital of East Timor, Dili.

"The methods of the militias make one fear the worst, the systematic elimination of the East Timorese political intelligentsia," says the newspaper.

"Seeing how those bands scoured the streets and set up road blocks and wrenched plane tickets from the hands of people intending to fly out of Timor, such fears do not seem exaggerated."

Uncertainty in Jakarta

France's Liberation newspaper focuses on how Indonesia's politicians will react to what is expected to be a vote for independence.

[ image: Wild Card: Commentators say militias must be stopped]
Wild Card: Commentators say militias must be stopped
"One uncertainty concerns the validation of the result of Monday's poll," the newspaper writes.

"Under the agreement it will fall to the Indonesian parliament to endorse or refuse to endorse the territory's eventual independence.

"A refusal is not impossible, since the supporters of Indonesian rule are openly accusing United Nations officials of acting with partiality on polling day."

The Times in London describes the events in East Timor as "Indonesia's disgrace".

"At best, it has neglected its responsibility to maintain order and there is ample evidence that it seeks to profit from armed anarchy," the newspaper writes of the Indonesian government.

But it fears that without "American backbone" the international community may not be able to act in time.

"The need now is to keep Indonesia under strong and constant pressure, if necessary by replacing the troops there now with elite units under unequivocal instructions to disarm these militias.

"Indonesian democracy is on trial."

No word in Jarkarta Post

In south-east Asia, all of the major newspaper lead with reports of the fighting - except for Indonesia's main newspaper, The Jarkarta Post.

[ image: Ineffectual: Soldiers and police must do more, say editorials]
Ineffectual: Soldiers and police must do more, say editorials
Instead, it focuses on reports that three Australians are being questioned in Dili after being allegedly found in possession of hundreds of unauthorised ballot papers.

In contrast, the South China Morning Post comments that the East Timorese are not likely to be relieved to hear that Jakarta is rushing more policemen to the territory.

It says the police and troops are at best ineffectual and, in some cases, actually assisting the militias.

If there is not going to be an international peace keeping force, Jarkarta must stop the bloodshed itself, it writes.

It if fails to act, it cannot expect the international community to bail it out of its financial crisis. Donors should suspend all aid until the Indonesian government brings the militias under control, the newspaper concludes.

The Sydney Morning Herald's editorial says that East Timor independence leader Xanana Gusmao has "an indispensable role to play" in the coming weeks - and the timing of his release from house release could prove crucial.

[ image: Fleeing: Many newspapers report on threats to their own reporters]
Fleeing: Many newspapers report on threats to their own reporters
"In the unlikely event that the vote favours autonomy within Indonesia, his presence will be needed to persuade militant pro-independence groups to accept the decision," it reports.

"If the vote goes the other way, there is little doubt that Xanana will be the leader of independent Timor. He needs to be in East Timor, then, when the result of the ballot is announced.

"Getting the timing of his release right will matter a great deal in terms of the challenges ahead."

Wild card militia

The International Herald Tribune comments that the anti-independence militias "remain the dangerous wild card".

"The high turnout at the referendum points to a substantial pro-independence majority," it writes.

"How will the militias, armed and encouraged by Indonesia's armed forces, respond? The answer lies to a large extent with Indonesia, which can control the militias if it chooses.

"Mr Clinton and Indonesia's other friends overseas may once again be called on to communicate to the (Indonesian President) Mr Habibie how much is at stake."

An editorial in The New York Times also reminds Indonesia of President Bill Clinton's warnings that relations with Washington will be damaged if it fails to end the violence.

"Whatever the results of the referendum, Indonesia remains officially responsible for security in East Timor for the next several months," it writes.

"President Habibie must send disciplined and reliable forces into East Timor to disarm the militias and see that the referendum results are carried out."

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