Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Low Graphics

Saturday, September 4, 1999 Published at 02:04 GMT 03:04 UK

Q & A: What next for East Timor?

What was East Timor's referendum supposed to decide?

[ image:  ]
The referendum, organised by the United Nations Mission in East Timor (Unamet), asked more than 438,000 voters in East Timor to vote yes to one of the two following statements:

"Do you accept the proposed special autonomy for East Timor within the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia?" or "Do you reject the proposed special autonomy for East Timor, leading to East Timor's separation from Indonesia?"

What does the 78.5% rejection of autonomy mean?

East Timor
Jakarta said that if the province rejected autonomy it would grant independence to the former Portuguese colony which it invaded in 1975 and annexed the following year. But the precise arrangements are far from clear.

Indonesia is obliged to facilitate the transition, and will still be in charge until the Indonesian parliament, the Supreme National Assembly, meets to ratify its result.

After that, the UN will assume transitional authority until elections for a new government are held.

The UN is prepared to stay on for several years providing support and expertise but in the immediate future officials say there is no precise plan as to how Indonesia will disengage from its 27th province.

Will violence derail the process?

[ image: Anti-independence militia members in Dili]
Anti-independence militia members in Dili
There are estimated to be between 8,000 and 10,000 militia members in East Timor who are against independence and who opposed the referendum.

The BBC's Simon Ingram, reporting from the East Timor capital Dili, says it seems evident that the militias, with the clear collusion of the military, are out to derail any chance of independence.

The United Nations, under an agreement between Indonesia and Portugal in May, has a continuing role in supervising the territory's transition.

Western diplomats say the UN might consider deploying a peacekeeping force once the result has been ratified by the Indonesian parliament.

But that won't happen until October at the earliest, and the prospect now is of a dangerous period of constitutional vacuum and increasing violence.

Why doesn't Indonesia stop the violence?

Indonesia has about 15,000 police and soldiers in the territory and says it is sending additional officers.

But BBC correspondents in East Timor report that the police and soldiers have done little to stop militia attacks.

They say there is a lack of political will to clamp down on the militias - who are badly organised and poorly armed compared to the army and police - despite Indonesian Government assurances that the situation is under control.

Is foreign intervention likely?

The international community is already involved in East Timor. But it would be difficult for the UN to send in a force in a climate of political uncertainty and violence. Diplomats say China, for example, might well oppose it. New Zealand's Foreign Minister, Don McKinnon, has suggested that in the worst case scenario of absolute chaos, a group of what he called like-minded countries might decide to intervene on their own.

But the big powers are being cautious so far. The Americans have demanded that Indonesia fulfils its responsibility for security by restraining militia groups from terrorising the population - as they put it - and subverting the UN-administered process.

International pressure on Jakarta will certainly increase if the violence increases following the overwhelming vote for independence.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage |

Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia

Internet Links

UN Mission in East Timor (Unamet)

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

The trials of East Timor: Special report

US warns Indonesian army

The lost world of the Timor rebels

Who makes up the Timor force?

Shadowy militias of East Timor

Analysis: New dawn for Timor?

Analysis: Gusmao's key role

Bishop Belo: Timor's spiritual leader

Indonesia's military - who is in control?

Profile: Timor's exiled leader

Analysis: The fragile archipelago

East Timor on the Web

East Timor: The view from Portugal

Eyewitness: The trials of East Timor

Eyewitness: Timor's day of reckoning

Analysis: Jakarta's long-term concerns