Peacekeeping: March 6, 2005


The UN wants to keep peacekeepers in East Timor for an extra year, mainly because of continued threats from neighboring West Timor, which is a part of Indonesia. Many Indonesians who once lived in East Timor, but fled to West Timor when 10,000 UN peacekeepers arrived in 1999, still believe that East Timor should belong to Indonesia. The number of peacekeepers has been reduced year by year, and only about 500 remain. For the additional year, only about 200 would be needed, mainly to watch the border with West Timor. Dealing with unruly neighbors is a common chore with peacekeepers. In this case, the neighbor (Indonesia) is officially willing to keep the peace at the border. But in practice, the Indonesian government is not willing to use force against its own people to keep them from causing trouble (that it, making it part of Indonesia, by force) in East Timor. Indonesian popular opinion was against the UN peacekeeping actions that made East Timor a separate nation. East Timor, like many parts of Indonesia, is ethnically distinct from the majority of Indonesians (who are Malay Moslems, while East Timorese are Christian Melanesians.) Indonesia took East Timor by force when the Portuguese colonial administration abruptly left in 1975. As soon as Portugal left, the East Timorese declared independence, but the Indonesians said no, and invaded. The East Timorese never accepted the Indonesian conquest, but the move was very popular throughout Indonesia. Now, five years after getting the Indonesians out, the UN is trying to recruit, train and arm an East Timorese army strong enough to at least keep small groups of armed Indonesian irregulars from making trouble along the border. This process is, the UN believes, almost complete. But in the peacekeeping business, you never know. Look at Africa, where several successful peacekeeping jobs later came undone. And then theres the Balkans, where Bosnia and Kosovo are still in danger of exploding again, even with the continued presence of peacekeepers.


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