Indonesia's Choice

Indonesia's president has opened the door for an international peacekeeping force in ravaged East Timor. But the test of his sincerity is how quickly the force is mustered and deployed.

Australia stands ready to lead the peacekeepers. Malaysia, Singapore, and other nations in the region are willing to help. The United States is committed to at least a support role.

But is Indonesia's powerful military ready to work hand-in-hand with the peacekeepers, as President B.J. Habibie promised in his Sunday announcement? Nothing to date has been reassuring on that score.

The process of allowing independence for the East Timorese, which Mr. Habibie himself set in motion by permitting an Aug. 30 referendum, has offended some Indonesians' sense of national honor. Soldiers who've fought East Timor separatists for 20 years are incensed. Yet a peaceful solution to the East Timor problem should strengthen Indonesia, allowing it to get on with economic recovery and democratic reform.

Some argue that a more gradual move toward independence would be better. But a fair vote has been held under United Nations auspices; 78.5 percent of East Timorese opted for independence. The world community has no choice but to help implement their decision.

Indonesia's choice is equally clear: Cooperate in a peaceful resolution. Allowing the militias' rampage to continue is the path to political isolation and economic stagnation.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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