United Nations Used History to Predict Best Action for East Timor
It is hard to tell whether Oliver North is upset because nations would not commit troops to East Timor to stop the murderous militias or because nations belatedly have done so ("Botched from the beginning," Commentary, Sept. 19).
Mr. North scathingly criticizes U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan for agreeing to hold a referendum in East Timor without an armed U.N. force already on the ground to protect the inhabitants.
It is true that some U.N. officials warned the secretary-general that there was a risk that Indonesians would react violently if the Timorese chose independence. But no country - least of all the United States - was prepared to send troops to East Timor last spring and summer.
Mr. Annan had to choose either to accept Indonesia's offer of a referendum with its troops on the ground or to have no referendum and continued warfare in East Timor. The only way to allow the people of East Timor freely to express their views was voting with the occupying power still on the scene.
Such a model produced a successful U.N. referendum in Namibia in 1989, when that country was in the grip of South Africa's apartheid regime. With that precedent in mind, Mr. Annan decided the Timor referendum was worth the risk. The subsequent faithlessness and ferocity of the Indonesian forces shocked the world and, with the overwhelming desire of the East Timorese people for independence documented at the polls, countries finally resolved to intervene with troops to safeguard the popular will. …