DAP calls on Cabinet to review decision to send token force of 20 military observers to United Nations peacekeeping force in East Timor and to despatch instead the originally-intended Malaysian contingent of between 800 and 1,500 peacekeepers to honour international commitments and  promote ASEAN spirit 

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang,  Saturday): The announcement by the Defence Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, that Malaysia would only send a token force of 20 military observers to the United Nations peacekeeping force in East Timor has come as a shock to Malaysians who had expected the country to live up to its international commitments and responsibilities by deploying a significantly larger contingent to play a more meaningful role in the force.

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.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman