The Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad had earlier said Malaysia was prepared to lead the peacekeeping operation in East Timor during the transitional administration that will take over from the current Australian-led multinational intervention force.
Malaysia has proposed sending up to 1,700 troops to the UN Transitional Authority in East Timor (UNTAET). UNTAET's military component will comprise 8,950 troops, 200 military observers and 1,640 police, making it the largest peacekeeping force in the world today. It is due to take over from the current Australian-led multinational force next year.
Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said yesterday that Malaysia has no hidden agenda in offering to send troops to join a new UN peacekeeping force for East Timor, while Foreign Minister, Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar said in Manila that Malaysia would be "happy" to take the lead in the East Timor peacekeeping mission if offered by the United Nations but it wonít push to lead the blue berets.
However, East Timorís foreign minister-designate Jose Ramos-Horta, has gone on public record to strongly object to suggestions that Malaysia lead the UN force, accusing Malaysia of staying silent about atrocities committed by Indonesian troops and pro-Jakarta militia after East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence.
The 1996 Nobel Peace prizewinner said civil disobedience could occur if Malaysia led the force.
He said: "Malaysia has an extremely poor record when it comes to East Timor. People would be shocked, people would be angry, no one would cooperate with a Malaysian commander. There could be even total civil disobedience."
The present international controversy over Malaysiaís readiness to lead the UN peacekeeping mission in East Timor and the strong objections of the East Timor leaders and people are not doing Malaysiaís international image any good.
The Malaysian government should be sensitive to the East Timorese feelings and objections and gracefully withdraw its preparedness to lead the UN peacekeeping mission while continuing to contribute to the UNTAET mission with a substantial contingent as well as drawing up a package of socio-economic assistance for the reconstruction of East Timor to make up for its past failure to speak up for demoracy and justice in East Timor.