Kosovo and East Timor

The arrest of Care Australia’s Steve Pratt and Peter Wallace by Serb authorities

exposes more than the risks faced by aid workers in a war which masquerades as

"humanitarian relief". It also reveals the perils faced by good people as a

result of their own government’s stupidity.

If we dismiss Serbian claims that they were Western spies, Pratt and Wallace were

arrested either (a) because they were easy targets and possibly useful as bargaining chips

in halting NATO’s bombardment, or (b) because they were Australian. My hunch is that they

were victims of their nationality.

Despite being irrelevant to the conflicts in the Balkans and having no influence on

either side, the Australian Government’s fulsome support for NATO’s attack on Yugoslavia

was as predictable as it was consequential. Instead of being able to go about their work

as nationals of a neutral party to the dispute, Pratt and Wallace were presumably seen by

Serbs as citizens of a state whose government reflexively endorsed an illegal and brutal

attack upon their homeland. Would they otherwise have been of any interest to Belgrade?

The Australian Government has not only been unable to protect its nationals abroad, it

has, in fact, made two of its most altruistic citizens unnecessary targets in a propaganda

war which it has nothing whatever to do with.

There is considerable irony in the Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, now

crowing about enlisting Kofi Annan’s support for the release of Pratt and Wallace. It was,

of course, the United Nations which NATO conspicuously bypassed in order to launch its

attack on Yugoslavia – a strategy which drew no complaints of any kind from the Australian

Government at the time. The Secretary-General is probably too polite to remind Canberra of

this fact.

Meanwhile closer to home, the Australian Government is reaping another bitter policy

harvest. In East Timor, private militias are killing any Timorese suspected of being

sympathetic to the struggle for independence. These militias are armed and paid by ABRI,

Indonesia’s military forces, and are doing everything they can to thwart a UN sponsored

ballot on independence, provisionally scheduled for early July.

The Australian Government, alone in the world in recognising Indonesia’s sovereignty in

East Timor, argues that Jakarta is responsible for law and order in the disputed

territory. In other words, the very organisation that committed the worst slaughter

relative to a population since the holocaust between 1975-8, should now be relied upon to

pacify East Timor in preparation for the UN ballot. Unsurprisingly, the act of

self-determination which both Jakarta and Canberra opposed for so long, looks certain to

be postponed. The East Timorese have been cruelly betrayed yet again.

The Howard Government also accepts the Habibie Government’s denials that it is backing

the militias, claiming instead that the latest massacres in Liquica (+60 dead, 8 April)

and Dili (+30 dead, 17 April) were sponsored by ‘rogue elements’ in the Indonesian

military. Even if this was true, and it is highly improbable, what does this say about

Canberra’s confidence in ABRI’s ability to maintain law and order in East Timor? More

importantly, when will foreign policy in Australia recover from its present paralysis and

move towards supporting UN intervention in what will soon be, one way or another, a new

independent state? After all, we can’t just sit back and do nothing while people are being

slaughtered, or can we?

Scott Burchill

Lecturer in International Relations

School of Australian and International Studies

Deakin University

221 Burwood Highway

Burwood Victoria 3125


Email: burchill@deakin.edu.au

Website: arts.deakin.edu.au/sais/Staff/burchill

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