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14th June 1998

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After Suharto, chance for East Timor

If there had been no President Suharto there would have been no invasion and annexation of East Timor. Now that he's deposed one of the world's dwindling number of territorial injustices can be remedied in a week- end's negotiations - the leadership of East Timor is ready and waiting. If President B.J. Habibie, Suharto's step-in, won't do it then a newly elected president in the elections now being pushed for early next year will have to, if a new war is to be avoided.

Indonesia invaded East Timor, a Portuguese colony in the Indonesian archipelago in December, 1975. It was a massive assault, involving bombers, paratroopers and marines. The army wreacked havoc: there was indiscriminate killing and rape. Later, the Indonesian vice-governor admitted that 60,000 Timorese had been killed - more than a tenth of the population.

For too long the sounds of protest have been next to inaudible. But, gradually,the penny has dropped as nations have been woken up to the principles involved by the National Council of Timorese Resistance which in recent years has ratcheted up the decibels - for which it was awarded the Nobel peace prize two years ago.

It has lobbied and wooed the world's governments with the facts. First and foremost, that Indonesia, despite its proximity, has no historic claim to the land it invaded. For 400 years East Timor was under Portuguese control. It was never a member of the Dutch Indonesian empire or at any time part of the archipelago's political structure. The Indonesian claim is as far- fetched as would be a Cuban claim to Jamaica.

As late as the year before the invasion, the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Adam Malik, had been saying, "The independence of every country is the right of every nation, with no exception for the people in Timor". But events and opportunity changed Suharto's mind. The Salazar dictatorship in Portugal was overthrown. At the same time there were bitter internal struggles for power within East Timor and the victor, the radical Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor, unilaterally declared independence. This provided the excuse for Indonesia's invasion.

At the United Nations the initial response seemed promising.

A majority, including the West, the Soviet bloc and the Third world, voted against Indonesia' s take-over and demanded its immediate withdrawal, arguing that East Timor was still legally part of Portugal and had a right to self- determination and, if it chose, independence.

But, over time, both Western and Soviet enthusiasm for the resolution eased. It was Third World nations that kept the issue alive but they too, with the passing years, lost interest.

The US and Europe, putting principle aside - the same principles Britain would later summon up in defense of the Falklands and the US and western Europe in defense of Kuwait - began a strategic relationship, supplying arms to the Indonesian military as a way, they argued, of maintaining stability in a potentially volatile corner of the globe. Australia, only 480 kilometres to the south, even recognized the island as "part of Indonesia".

Not only has Suharto now gone, so has his infamous son-in-law, Lt. General Prabowa Subianto, the man most hated in East Timor for his ruthless record. For many years he treated East Timor as his personal estate, encouraging his in-laws to exploit the island's coffee, sandal- wood and marble and using his troops with wanton abandon to suppress any criticism, organising youth gangs to abduct and eliminate East Timorese opposition leaders.

Despite the recent political eruptions in Indonesia, the East Timorese have shown extraordinary restraint, influenced by Xanana Gusmao, the imprisoned leader of the resistance. It is a non- violent movement of immense self- discipline that has worked on a long timetable, convinced that one day circumstances would change and its voice would he heard.

Non- violence wasn't always East Timor's way. In the first five years of the struggle at least 10,000 Indonesian soldiers lost their lives and in the large- scale bombardment of villages, meant to suppress the revolt, the deaths were so huge that the late Professor Leo Kuper of the University of California, who was the world's leading authority on mass killings, described it as "genocide".

Expectations are now running high. If the world does not move more quickly to pressure the Habibie regime to get a move on and redress this wrong, the non- violent leaders could find their influence waning and the baton being passed to those who want a return to violence. But the last thing Indonesia needs in its present parlous state is another war on its hands. As much for Indonesia's own sake as for that of the East Timorese, President Habibie needs to enter a week-end date in his diary and negotiate an honourable conclusion to his predecessor's great mistake.

"Lanka appears to be driven by pettiness"

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti Our Lobby Correspondent.

The old adage that truth is the first casualty of war is indeed proving true, what with ministers citing isolated instances to prove that media was indeed the main informant of the enemy- the rotten egg amidst political heroism.

At the debate on the extension of emergency, doing his valiant best to prove the government was not on a confrontation course with the media was Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte.

Claiming the LTTE was suffering heavy losses, he briefly illustrated the atrocities of the LTTE during May, his cited reason for the intense outbreak of violence and property destruction by LTTE.

Having a dig at the Opposition Leader, the Minister claimed that despite his traitorous and unpatriotic remarks, deserters were returning to barracks in hundreds- rekindled by a supportive media campaign.

Ravi Karunanayake
Ravi Karunanayake

Jeyaraj Fernandopulle
Jeyaraj Fernandopulle

"Out of 28,000 deserters 22,850 returned during the last four years. We are trying to unify a country divided by the UNP. With the escalation of war, we had to introduce a temporary censorship. We have no grouse against media, but unwittingly may be, they have been enlightening the enemy by furnishing sensitive information."

Furnishing details of casualties, the General turned Minister said that the military's death toll was at 208 while 212 suffered grievous injuries. Another 1,324 have suffered minor injuries and 65 were reported missing.

Conceding that the media erred in good faith, he quipped that he was infact heeding a request by soldiers in imposing censorship.

But an unconvinced Joseph Michael Perera of the UNP called the war effort a tailor made one for political gains". Heaping scorn on the PA with gusto, the burly MP said that the censorship was actually motivated by a desire to curb media.

"Like the way you manoeuvred the debate on Air Lanka to vilify Ravi Karunanayake, this time, the Master of Deadlines with his irrepressible urge to shake Prabhakaran's hand has moved to destroy the country's media which was doing a fine job of informing the people.

Media had no hidden agenda though his motive was personal glory - Prince Sapumal of our time."

He pointed out the eagerness with which the government held the local polls in the North-East, crucifying the UNP as the perennial anti democratic force in the country. But the Jaffna MC was obviously collapsing, with a spate of resignations and the Mayoress herself being assassinated.

"Does the LTTE still rule Jaffna, despite the government's boasting to the contrary? Why were there such security lapses? Was civil administration of Jaffna a figment of PA's imagination" he queried, much to the government benches' annoyance.

Adroitly changing subjects, he had more queries for the government. What happened to the ship from Zimbabwe? The real motive behind the 'farcical peace' was to give what Prabhakaran wanted, he thundered adding that this was part of an agreement between the PA and the LTTE.

Pint sized Deputy Minister Athauda Seneviratne strived to hold a brief for Minister Ratwatte and the government's mode of war execution. The path to peace was a thorny one- and censorship was a minor issue he noted, earning a wrathful attack by some UNP ers who called him a living disgrace to leftist ideals.

UNP's P. Dayaratne was speaking next, and on a note of caution he said that dissemination of accurate information was the only way to quash rumours. Censorship was an archaic practice of the politically bankrupt, and the Minister had only a single incident to cite.

We talk big of global information. The rich have access to Internet, hence petty barriers do not hamper them. It is the common soldier's family that need the news most. Censorship was easily interpreted as the government's admittance of a badly executed war.

Challenging the government to disprove the claim that buildings of all types were being converted overnight into "temporary hospital rooms" was one time Wayamba chief minister Gamini Jayawickrama Perera.

Pinning the entire blame on the PA for a politically designed war effort, he said that there were 233 personnel admitted to the general Hospital only last week.

"If you are a nonentity and treated like garbage, would the morale of the troops be high? Nobody would wish to enlist, and those already in it would not wish to remain, hence the unprecedented levels of desertion" he asserted, prompting PA members to immediately have their daggers drawn.

Life being full of surprises, when a former competent authority assumes the media crusader, that causes hype. But UNP's Dr. Sarath Amunugama's arguments were sound and rational, the PA members opted to listen.

The 'militarisation' of society caused severe doubts over the government's bona fides said the burly MP, expressing his disgust over the manner in which a military censor was thrust upon the scribes.

Citing the creeping generalism as a further erosion of democracy and a restriction on civil liberties the Editors' Guild has recorded its strong protest, expressing doubts whether this was paving the way for martial law.

"In your eagerness to curb media, the memo issued to media was sent without the Defence Secretary's signature. Why cannot the celebrity media Minister and his Information Department staff handle this? Having created one civilian General, perhaps you intend making many more," he queried innocently.

Waxing eloquent, the MP said that the self congratulatory PA proved its incompetence by castigating the media for LTTE's information network. "It was absolute buffoonery to ostracize media for any buffoon realized that the LTTE did not base its military strategies on a little news piece or a tiny map."

Proposing mass conscription was PA's member for Ratnapura D.M. Seneviratne, reiterating that war must be a shared responsibility, the brunt of which should not be borne by only the poor.

In a self- critical delivery, the MP claimed that the tradition of any Opposition has been to adapt a dog in the manger attitude and thereby scuttle any attempts at power sharing. The '83 carnage pushed thousands of Tamils into the LTTE embrace, and the road to peace has become narrow since then, though never closed.

The leader of the PLOTE D. Siddarthan however cast doubts over the LTTE's acceptance of a negotiated settlement, stressing that this was the very thing the government must achieve. The scars of war were such that each tear drop has cost lives he said, explaining why that it was more important for the Tamil population to have a political solution. Though surrounded by bloody carnage, everything was lost if defeated in spirit adding that bonds of affection needed to be nurtured.

Burly bespectacled MP from Kegalle Mano Wijeratne was ready to do battle, and he infuriated the government benches with constant references to the purchase of Russian built three MI 20 helicopters. He posed many queries about the tender procedures, prices, evaluation and valuations that the Chair was compelled to rule that his barrage of questions created a bad precedent.

The undaunted MP claimed that military procurements were tainted with corruption that none wished to go before a committee comprising members hand picked by the Minister. Waving documents, he thundered that instead he would go before the Bribery Commission- which should be reactivated if only to prove the government's stinking deals.

The irrepressible W.J.M Lokubandara was speaking next, and he laboriously explained the value of wisdom and state craft when in government. "Yesterday was Poson Poya and the remarkable thing was that Arahat Mahinda posed many queries to Devanampiyatissa to gauge his intelligence first , and then shared the vision of Buddhism. I feared censorship was in the air, and now the singular freedom which was available under the PA has been curbed.

This is why I say that it is an inordinate risk to have a foolish ruler. They fulfil whims and fancies thereby playing havoc with the general public.

Crooked thinking and crooked rulers are anathema to democracy," he gleefully quipped, while an amused House broke into laughter.

Likening the UNP's rhetoric to champion the cause of media to Satan quoting the Bible was SLMC's General Secretary Rauff Hakeem. Taking an uncustomary dig at the Opposition UNP, he said that the UNP during its hay day used censorship and other means to curb media.

"Opposition is trying to portray that the government's move primarily stemmed from a desire to cover its alleged lapses in the execution of war. On certain occasions, there have been lapses on the part of the media, but it should be borne in mind that an expeditious resolution was much needed," he stressed.

Concluding for the Opposition was member for Matara Lakshman Yapa Abeywardene.

In a passionate speech, more a plea for speedy resolution of the ethnic problem, the young MP said that repeating old theories and trading insults should stop.

"A political solution was a must, specially when it became an insurmountable task to fight the enemy. Countering a ruthless guerrilla group has caused this nation to bleed," he said.

On a saucy note, he scoffed at the government, stating that those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat the same mistakes- as evidenced by the many security lapses and the continuous explosions.

On a pensive note, he concluded that the journey towards peace was arduous- a reason which made it all the more precious. While the entire world was pursuing peace and countries ruthlessly divided became united, and nations together, Sri Lanka appeared to be driven by pettiness.

But the day's proceedings appeared to have little impact on Minister Ratwatte who condescendingly called Dr.. Amunugama the local Gobbels- and for this quoting a previous speech by Anura Bandaranaike.

In a speech loaded with innuendo, the Minister said that despite allegations that he did not wish to glorify himself.

"I take an immense risk without sitting in an air- conditioned room the way UNP executed the war.

There is no glory in that, for if I return in a coffin, that is the end of my saga." He said, quipping that he believed in standing shoulder to shoulder with combatants in this crucial hour.

The media's impact on the military

By Debra Gersh Hernandez

The age of instant, glo bal communications has forced the United States Military to consider the media's presence and impact during its operations other than during a time of war, according to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"Is media coverage forcing us to alter our approach to operations other than war? The answer is a near-certain yes when it comes to peacemaking operations, a more hesitant yes in the case of more benign peace-keeping operations, and probably a no in the humanitarian operations, unless we talk of places like Bosnia, where all three are intertwined," said Maj. Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"The answer is yes in peacemaking operations," Shalikashvili explained, because the security and safety of the troops are at stake.

It "tends to aggravate the natural tension between these two organizations, the press and the military, organizations with essentially very different missions," he said. "We all know the cases: the bright lights on the beach of Mogadishu as Marines are attempting a night amphibious landing; the hundreds of reporters awaiting in Port-au-Prince the night of the airborne assault, called off just hours before the sky was to have been filled with paratroopers..

In Haiti, Shalikashvili said, there was "the fear that the sky would have been illuminated by a thousand white lights making glowing ducks of our soldiers.

"What is less well known," he added, "is that all major U.S. networks agreed to use night vision devices instead of white lights and to delay broadcasting for some time until the troops were safely on the ground.

"So, perhaps we are more tolerant of each other's needs than is generally believed, but we must continue to work at this issue," he told those gathered at the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation/George Washington University Conference in Washington.

"I submit to you that a young sergeant leading a squad to clear a narrow street would not show the same caution when he knows his progress is being filmed by a TV crew. He will be simply too embarrassed to skip from doorway to doorway and is apt to become a more likely casualty," Shalikashvili said.

"But when more benign, less dangerous operations, such as peace-keeping or humanitarian operations are involved, the tensions between media and the soldier are much less present.

"From my experience, for instance, in the Kurdish operation in the (Persian) Gulf, the tensions were practically nonexistent," he said. "And we not only were able to give the press full freedom to roam the operations area but we gave them maximum support to get around and to be better informed.

"The result was more factual stories filed, a better informed public, a better informed Washington and, thus, better support for us in the field," Shalikashvili explained.

"In fact, I submit that the press should be free to go and do its job with restrictions only in the narrowest sense for safety and operational security," he noted, adding, "and, just as quickly, those restrictions must be lifted.".

The general recognized the existence of the "CNN effect" and said, "Surely, we went to Somalia and Rwanda partly because of its vast magnetic pull. Surely, the world's actions and inactions and political leaders ... are greatly influenced by this effect.".

In the face of "instant, global communication," Shalikashvili pointed out that our government should be able to make choices, even if they are different than those being shown on television.

"What if our country had wanted to go to the Sudan instead of Somalia, although only Somalia was on our screen'?" he asked.

"I surely don't have the answer, but while these decisions will be harder in the future, they might prove not as difficult as we might imagine".

"Governments and publics will become more sophisticated," he explained. "They'll become more used to this phenomenon. And all of us more strongly will have our senses dulled by overexposure to pictures of starving children and atrocities committed by one group upon another.".

The general said he does not believe, however, that the military has a role in using the media to advance one position over another.

He does think that "the United States military has a responsibility and a self-interest in understanding the needs of the press, and understanding, therefore, the needs of the country for straightforward information".

"I think the United States military has a need to understand that if they do not help educate the media on military issues, they only have themselves to blame for inaccurate reporting," he said.

Shalikashvili pointed out that the "best salesmen of what the United States military does" are the privates and sergeants.

"It is in our interest, I think - unless truly, no kidding, safety and security are at stake - to expose the media to our young people, for them to tell the story," he said.

"In the many operations where I've been involved as commander or some other capacity, all I've ever asked of those who work for me is (to) stay in their lane.

"What I mean is, when you're a platoon leader, speak only about what that platoon is doing, good or bad - just don't speculate about what the president must be doing," Shalikashvili explained.

"The same holds true of generals. If you're a division commander, speak about your division, but don't tell me what Colin Powell should have done. Stay in your lane - that for which you are truly the expert," he said.

The general said if the military adheres to this policy, "and those in the press do not put a youngster in an awkward position of pressing him about what he thinks about Clinton's decisions on this or that issue, I think it will be fine.

"You will get the straightforward, more informed story.

We will not put a youngster in that awkward position. And we in the military, and we as a nation, will be extraordinarily well served, because they will tell it as it is.

"And it is, fundamentally, almost always very good story", he said.

"And when we don't do things right, then it's better, I think, to tell it quickly and straightforward, because as you know, bad news, like cheese, doesn't smell any better with the passage of time", Shalikashvili noted.

Corruption: fingers in the till

By Ashok V. Desai

Salman Rushdie, in his novel shame, wrote about Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's descent into corruption and crime. I hope he will write a sequel, carrying on the story with Zulfiqar's daughter Benazir, the awesome scale of whose corruption has just begun to emerge from a set of papers stolen from the office of Jens Schlegelmilch, a Geneva-based lawyer described as the Bhutto's family friend and attorney.

After Benazir was dismissed by President Leghari in 1996, the caretaker government he appointed began an inquiry into her corruption. It engaged the New York-based Jules Kroll Associates which put out feelers in Europe; an offer came to it which investigators appointed by the Nawaz Sharif government later took over. The papers were offered for a price of $10 million (Rs. 39 crore), and finally bought for $1 million. They are the crucial evidence underlying the 12 cases filed with Pakistan's Accountability Commission. They were scooped by Nicholas Burns in a report in the New York Times and re-published in The Asian Age.

According to this report, Abdur Razzak Yaqub, a Pakistan trader in Dubai, was given a monopoly to import gold into Pakistan after paying $5 million to Capricon Trading, a front company registered in British Virgin Islands and owned by Asif Zardari.

Pakistan had paid for two squadrons of F-16 fighters to be purchased from the US; but following findings that Pakistan was developing nuclear weapons, President George Bush banned the sale. Pakistan then turned to the French aircraft maker, Dassault, for the purchase of 32 Mirage planes. Zardari made a deal with Dassault whereby 5% of the value of the deal would be paid into a front company called Marlton Business SA. Societe General de Surveillance, a Swiss company employed to check the invoice value of Pakistan's imports and force importers into honesty, paid Bhutto family companies $11.8 million.

Zardari was known in Islamabad as "Mr 10%". With money thus made, the Bhutto family and associates bought a 355-acre estate south of London, a manor in Normandy worth $2.5 million and a $4 million resort in Florida.

This pattern of high corruption is well known in India. B.G. Deshmukh, the former cabinet secretary, recently recounted in The Asian Age what he observed of corruption under the Gandhi dynasty. Soon after Indira Gandhi came to power in 1966, she appointed Rajni Patel and Vasantrao Naik her collectors in Mumbai; they systematically combed the companies in the Nariman Point area for funds. Later, Sanjay Gandhi posted loyal officials in the ministries of defence, the department of defence production and other ministries and began to collect commissions on foreign contracts. This practice proved so efficient that the Congress neglected to collect contributions from Indian industrialists from 1980 onwards.

On 2 October 1986, a person hidden in the shrubbery fired at Rajiv Gandhi when he was approaching Mahatma Gandhi's samadhi. After this, Rajiv Gandhi wanted to get some of his security guards trained in Italy. The cost was about $250,000. Rajiv Gandhi said the Congress would pay it.

The arrangement didn't work because Deshumukh insisted that the money should be paid by a secret service agency. RAW (the Research & Analysis Wing) was chosen; it discovered that the money was to be paid in Italian lire to an "in-law" of Rajiv Gandhi.

Sonia Gandhi has challenged the government to reveal the names of the recipients of bribes from Bofors. Cynics allege that she has done this because she knows the names cannot be revealed under the conditions placed by the Swiss courts before releasing the records. This is not true; they can be revealed as part of evidence in a suit against the guilty parties. While Arun Shourie and Chitra Subramaniam were courageously laying bare the Bofors affair, I was convinced that Rajiv Gandhi must have taken some of the money.

Now I am pretty sure that he personally did not. It is known that bribes were taken by Win Chadha, the Hindujas, and O. Quattrocchi. They may or may not have been collectors or account keepers for Rajiv Gandhi. Irrespective of whom Bofors paid. I find it sufficiently telling evidence that when V.P. Singh instituted an enquiry into the HDW submarines contract, Rajiv Gandhi promptly removed him from the defence minister's post. Rajiv Gandhi inherited, acquiesced in, and tried to safeguard the system of milking overseas contracts.

Rajiv and Benazir are among a group of third world leaders who put their power to improper use; in this they are no different from Ferdinand Marcos, Mobuttu Sese Seko or Carlos Salinas. Why? Rajiv at any rate was not brought up to graft; whatever his mother and brother might have done, he was out of it, and meant to stay out until Mrs Gandhi's death catapulted him into power. After taking over, he found a system of collection in operation; he took it over.

He did so because that was an essential condition of political leadership in this country: he had to ensure that his party was well funded. For this, commissions on government contracts were more convenient. If money was collected from Indian industrialists, they had to be chased by unreliable collectors, they decided how much they wanted to give, and their contributions created obligations which would have to be honoured at any time.

Swraj Paul has written how, after encouraging him to make raids on DCM and Escorts, Mrs Gandhi later withdrew support. The prior obligations of Mrs Gandhi and the Congress to the Shrirams and the Nandas won out.

Commissions on contracts involved immediate quid proquo and created no obligations; they also brought large amounts of money with less effort.

Like it or not, Indian parties cannot be run today without corruption; and manipulating foreign contracts is the most efficient form of corruption available to those in power.

Hope hope hope

Even if the top post falls vacant next week, the incumbent seems unwilling to go.

That is after formally making it known to colleagues that he would like to come and shake their hands and say good-bye.

Farewell functions have been put on hold in the fervent hope that there would still be a lease of life, if not in years and months, in weeks and days.

He believes that the fresh lease will help him go with "dignity and honour." Does that mean there is no dignity and honour now ? Only the godfather, now busy with a memorandum, will know !!

Mage ammo

An SLAF Court of Inquiry that probed the death of one officer and five airmen during the LTTE attack on Kolonnawa Oil installations in 1996, among other matters, has come up with some interesting recommendations.

One of the items the Court wanted written off was "Quantity 01 Browning pistol magazine damage amounting to Rs 125."

The six SLAF men who died during the explosion were all members of the Special Airborne Force or were commonly identified as the No Problem Group. Now, who says they did not use Brownings ?

Another recommendation from the Court for a write off was "Quantity 01 round (9mm) missing amounting to Rs 3.00."

After all, a single round of 9 mm ammo is cheaper than a razor blade, a wooden pole or even an empty bottle !!

Sensitive info

The censorship has not deterred those within a leading organisation from launching a high profile anonymous letter campaign against senior bosses.

Whether these are prompted by petty jealousies or blocked promotional prospects is another matter. The letters are accompanied by confidential and even highly sensitive documents. Talking of providing sensitive information, here is a good example.

The product of one poison pen wielder was against a senior person and contained copies of reports of an inquiry against him. The covering letter alleged he was under the pay, of all people, of a scribe.

One would say that's a very charitable remark. The "Eisenhower boys", to whom norms of decency are alien, even spoke of scribes who provided women to the seniors. Believe it or not. That was how they got their information, they claimed.

If you cannot silence them, brand them all kinds of things. That will not only bring in a victorious situation but also a much needed ego boost. That seems to be the moral.

The big boss

It was not only the former big boss who has been endowed with a Gold card from a world renowned chain.

Even the better half and the younger one are lucky beneficiaries.

One who knows all about it says they did not just fall from the air. "They earned it," he claims. Sky seems to be the limit !!

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