Mahathir and Howard are both right, that Asean should take the lead in East Timor peacekeeping and Malaysia must be prepared to provide more troops to the multi-national forces in East Timor

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Friday): I agree with  both the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad that ASEAN should take the lead in East Timor peacekeeping and the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard that Malaysia must be prepared to provide more troops to the multi-national force in East Timor.

On 6th September 1999, I had issued a statement calling on ASEAN Foreign Ministers to convene an emergency meeting to send an ASEAN Mission to  East Timur to facilitate the implementation of the independence referendum and end a new carnage and genocide, but it fell on deaf ears.

I had also warned that ASEAN will lose all moral authority in the international arena if it allows a "Bosnia-Herzegovina" or a Kosovo of ethnic cleansing and genocide to take place within its region.

On 7th September, 1999, I had stressed that as  United Nations Security Council member, Malaysia had the greatest responsibility of all ASEAN countries apart from Indonesia to ensure that there would  be no Bosnia or Kosovo in the ASEAN backward with another  ethnic cleansing and genocide in East Timor following the August 30 vote for independence by the East Timorese.

I said that it was most regrettable that up to then,  Malaysia had failed to play any leading  or significant role in the United Nations Security Council to ensure that Indonesia uphold its international responsibility to provide order and security in East Timor and that the international community acted swiftly by despatching an international peace-keeping force  to prevent East Timor from   the tragedy of  being the first people to suffer two   ethnic cleansings and genocides for  two
consecutive generations.

On 17th September 1999, I welcomed the "final decision of the Malaysian government to join the East Timor multi-national force" after earlier statements by both the Foreign Minister and the Defence Minister that Malaysia would  not participate in the Australian-led multinational force to restore peace in East Timor, although  Malaysia would be involved in the second-phase peace-keeping mission under the auspices of the United Nations.

I said in my statement: "It is a relief that the Malaysian government had reversed  its decision not to join the multi-national force as this will be tantamount to Malaysia abdicating from its international responsibilities and commitments, denuding Malaysia of the right to take the high moral ground in international relations."

I was quite disturbed however that Malaysia was competing with Thailand  for the post of Deputy Commander of the United Nations multinational force when Malaysia was only sending a 30-men complement of 17 officers and 13 other ranks and I was relieved when the Prime Minister said on Sept. 18 that Malaysia "would not fight" over the matter and was prepared to accept Thailandís appointment to the post.

ASEAN had failed itself, Indonesia and East Timor in not  convening an emergency meeting to discuss a lead role for ASEAN in the East Timor peacekeeping. If ASEAN in serious in wanting to take the lead in the International  Force in East Timor (Interfet), and it ought to, ASEAN must collectively contribute the most number of troops as compared to any other single nation.

I commend Mahathir when he spoke of his concern over the "rather heavy-handed" way Australian troops dealt with problems in East Timor.  He would have greater credibility if he had been equally concerned about the "rather heavy-handed" way Malaysian police dealt with peaceful demonstrators in Malaysia!


*Lim Kit Siang - Malaysian Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Democratic Action Party Secretary-General & Member of Parliament for Tanjong