Malaysia's deployment of 20 military observers, as announced by Najib, is probably the smallest contingent the country had ever deployed in any major UN peacekeeping effort anywhere since 1960 when Malaysia first took part in UN operations in Congo. It also makes a farce of public declarations and commitments made by Malaysian leaders in international forums, whether the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad or by the nationís Defence and Foreign Ministers.
For instance, when delivering his speech at the United Nations General Assembly on 30th September 1999, Mahathir said ASEAN should and was ready to take the lead in East Timor peacekeeping when the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) is formed and which will remain in East Timor for two to three years to help ease the path to independence and nationhood
He also criticised what he described as "the heavy-handed approach" of the Australian-led International Force in East Timor (Interfet) which would be replaced by the UNTAET peacekeeping force.
Mahathir said Australia should scale down the size of its forces and be less belligerent in the way it was going about securing peace and disarming the militias in East Timor at the time.
The Malaysian Prime Ministerís proposal at the United Nations General Assembly that ASEAN should lead the UN peacekeepers in the new phase of United Nations stewardship of East Timor was immediately endorsed by the then newly-appointed Army deputy chief, Lt Jen Datuk Abdul Aziz Hassan, who said the very next day that various elements of the Army, including the infantry and mechanised outfits, were being prepared in view of the expected deployment.
Abdul Aziz estimated that Malaysia would contribute a contingent of between 800 and 1,500 peacekeepers to the UNTAET peacekeeping force.
Three weeks later, on Oct. 21, 1999, the then Defence Minister Datuk Abang Abu Bakar Mustapha announced that Malaysia might send a peacekeeping force of between 1,500 and 1,700 soldiers to East Timor under the United Nations command.
It is most shocking that this military contingent of between 800 to 1,500, later raised to between 1,500 to 1,700, Malaysian peacekeepers to join UNTAET has shrunk so outrageously to the paltry figure of 20 military observers!
On November 7, 1999, the Foreign Minister, Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar told reporters after sending off the visiting Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid at the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport in Subang that Malaysia had "never offered to lead the United Nations peacekeeping force in East Timor as claimed by some parties".
He said: "This is not a post that we asked for, we were offered it in the early stage. If now they do not want to offer, it is also alright ... what we want is to contribute, so let us be very clear about this."
Hamid said Malaysia's intention "to restore peace in East Timor was sincere and was not aimed at seeking popularity as claimed".
Now the Malaysian government seems to have back-pedalled and reneged on its words that it was only interersted in contributing to the restoration of peace in East Timor and not seeking popularity after it failed to get a Malaysian appointed as head of the UN peacekeepers in UNTAET.
UNTAET, which will include thousands of civilian administrators, is headed by Sergio Vieira de Mello, the Brazilian UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, who arrived in East Timor in November, 1999.
The UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced this Wednesday that Philippine Military Academy (PMA) superintendent Major-General Jaime delos Santos will be commander of the 8,000-strong UNTAET peacekeepers to be sent shortly to East Timor to take over from an 11,000-strong Australian-led Interfet, and Major-General Michael Geoffrey Smith of Australia will be deputy force commander. Delos Santos and Smith are expected to arrive in East Timor in mid-January.
On Thursday, when announcing that Malaysia would only be sending 20 military observers to join the UNTAET peacekeepers, Najib said that the question of "sulking or being disappointed" by the decision of Kofi Annan not to appoint a Malaysian to head the UN peacekeepers in UNTAET "does not arise".
However, Malaysia cannot run away from the fact that the international reaction to our puny and farcical contribution of 20 military observers to UNTAET would be seen as a petty-minded sulk at not being offered the post of commander of the East Timor peacekeeping force and Malaysiaís lack of ASEAN spirit and commitment in reneging on the Prime Ministerís declaration in the United Nations that ASEAN should lead UNTAET peacekeepers.
After all, Mahathir was speaking not only as Malaysian Prime Minister in the UN General Assembly in September but also as the most senior ASEAN leader!
This is not a good start for Malaysiaís foreign policy and international relations in the new millennium.
DAP calls on the Cabinet to redeem Malaysiaís international honour and reputation as not to be seen as mean-spirited as well as being un-ASEAN by rescinding the decision to send only 20 military observers and instead to adhere to the originally-intended Malaysian contingent of between 800 and 1,500 peacekeepers to join UNTAET, so that ASEAN peacekeepers represent the overwhelming majority of the 8,000-strong UNTAET peacekeepers.