International Papers

Timor Amok Redux

Editorial writers around the world called upon Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid to curb the West Timor militias following the brutal murder of three United Nations workers last week. The murders also put into question the future of U.N. peacekeeping missions. Last Wednesday, hundreds of machete-wielding militiamen stormed a U.N. office in the town of Atambua and attacked aid workers, leaving three dead and several others injured. Although the incident took place in broad daylight within 100 yards of the town’s police station, witnesses claim the security forces made no attempt to intervene. Britain’s Independent speculated that the unexplained death of a militia leader Tuesday might have triggered the attack. The United Nations pulled its 400 relief workers from West Timor Thursday, leaving 90,000-120,000 refugees without a source of food and medicine. The refugees are the last of the 250,000-300,000 who fled last year when pro-Indonesia militias ran amok following East Timor’s vote for independence. (For a Timor primer, click here; for coverage of last year’s events click here.)

The attack happened while world leaders were meeting in New York, forcing the Indonesian president to pledge a crackdown on the militias. The Age of Melbourne said: “[T]here is widespread scepticism about the latest undertaking. … [T]he will and capacity of his government to deliver have been exposed too many times as tragically inadequate.” The  Khaleej Times of the United Arab Emirates suggested that “Wahid has downgraded the Timorese issue on his own list of priorities, realising that most Indonesians consider it a closed chapter and have turned their attention to more pressing economic and political issues.” Still, the paper said, economic woes and separatist violence elsewhere in Indonesia don’t excuse the president from his responsibility to end the “militias’ reign of terror.”

After all, the same dark forces who are the patrons of the militias are also fuelling unrest from Jakarta to Ambon and, in general, working overtime to undermine the country’s fragile democratic system.”

A piece in the Toronto Globe and Mail documented the increasing dangers to humanitarian aid workers with an e-mail written by one of the victims the day before the rampage: “We are waiting for the enemy. We sit here like bait, unarmed, waiting for the wave to hit.” According to a Johns Hopkins study, “382 humanitarian workers died in the field between 1985 and 1998, 68 per cent of them as a result of intentional violence—bombings, beatings, stabbings, shootings.” Three hundred and fourteen of the dead were unarmed civilian workers. Following Wednesday’s violence, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan proposed a “humanitarian intervention” doctrine, whereby U.N. troops could be dispatched to a sovereign nation—without an invitation—to prevent human-rights tragedies. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that China and Russia—”both deeply concerned about potential successionists—oppose in principle any outside force” but, the editorial concluded:

[W]hen Indonesia is unable to enforce its own laws to prevent murders such as these, what is the point of its precious sovereignty? To meet such cases the argument for the UN to develop strategies for securing the agreement of member countries to permit forcible humanitarian intervention is overwhelming. The Timor tragedy should be made the opportunity for establishing such new UN strategies.

It’s a gas, gas, gas. In Europe, rising gasoline prices led to anarchy on the streets last week. In France, truckers blocked oil refineries and storage facilities, fishermen cut off ports, and taxi drivers slowed down urban traffic in protest. According to the International Herald Tribune, the demos were called off when the French government offered a “tax giveback” of 17.5 U.S. cents per gallon and allowed taxi drivers to raise fares by 4.5 percent. Similar blockades left many British gas stations low on fuel, which drove panicking motorists to fill up earlier than necessary. In England, gas costs around $5.50 per gallon, three-quarters of which is taxes. (The Guardian reported that the price may now be approaching its upper practical limit because the meters on most pumps max out at 99.9 pence per liter. The current average in London is around 90 pence per liter.)

The conservative Sunday Telegraph of London said, “[T]his is not an oil crisis, but it is a tax scandal.” The editorial claimed that modern governments “of all shades have learned that direct taxes on income have to be kept low in order to win elections” and have replaced them with indirect taxes. It continued:

The punitive tax on fuel is disgracefully unfair and every minister knows it, but it is also a source of £30 billion of easily collected revenue, so there is no political will to do anything about it.

The Independent on Sunday took the opposite view. The paper applauded the high gas taxes, as long as the revenue is spent appropriately—for example on public transportation, especially in rural areas, to allow more people an alternative to the car. It declared:

Oil is a scarce resource, which takes millions of years to form and only seconds to burn—polluting as it does so. Many countries are investing in cleaner alternatives: if this “shock” speeds up the process, that is welcome.

Never mind the Quidditch: In what must be—one hopes—the reductio ad absurdum of top 10 lists, the Observer reported on Britain’s quest for the nation’s favorite word. With a week to go and 13,000 votes cast, the 10 favorites, in alphabetical order, are: “bollocks,” “elephant,” “hope,” “Jesus,” “joy,” “puddle,” “Quidditch,” “rainbow,” “serendipity,” and “sex.” Charges of vote tampering may lead to the elimination of “Jesus” (British members of an American church group were told to vote for Mary’s boy). Harry Potter’s favorite game and “the knack of making happy discoveries by chance” are said to be in the lead.