Subject: AAP: Indonesia admits 18,000 troops may be in East Timor
Date: Mon, 02 Nov 1998 10:05:41 -0500
From: "John M. Miller" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Indonesia admits 18,000 troops may be in East Timor By Karen Polglaze and Buni Yani
JAKARTA, Oct 30 AAP - Indonesia admitted for the first time today that as many as 18,000 troops may be deployed in East Timor.
Chief of Staff of the East Timor military sub-command, Lieutenant Colonel Supadi, told AAP that if all troops and civilians trained by the military to carry guns and to be used in operations were included then the number might total 18,000.
The admission came after documents leaked to Australian media purportedly showed that Indonesia had failed to reduce the number of troops stationed in the disputed half-island territory despite President BJ Habibie's personal promise. In a telephone interview from the East Timor capital Dili, Supadi told AAP that assessments of as many as 18,000 troops in the territory could be true. "It may be true because now there are still many civilians who have been trained in military exercises and they also carry guns," he said. "On several occasions such as operations they wear military uniforms." He said if these trained civilians were included in the count there could be 18,000 troops in East Timor.
The number of military personnel in the territory has been hotly disputed over many years. Observers have suggested numbers as high as 12,000 to 15,000, while the government has admitted to less than 10,000.
In July, more than 400 frontline troops were pulled out amid much fanfare as the government sought to prove it was living up to its promise to reduce troops and ease tensions in the former Portuguese colony.
Supadi said today that troops permanently stationed in East Timor (known as organic) and those who are brought in short term for exercises and the like (non-organic) would probably total around 15,000.
"If we count, there may be 15,000 including both organic and non-organic troops," he said.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the reconciliation process could be threatened by the failure to reduce troop numbers in Indonesia's 27th province.
"We very strongly urge the Indonesian government to reduce the numbers," Mr Downer said earlier today.
"Remember though that the reconciliation process is at a very delicate stage in East Timor and our concern would be that if these reports were accurate it won't help that reconciliation process," he told ABC radio.
Indonesia has promised greater autonomy for the territory its troops invaded in 1975, a move not recognised by the United Nations, which regards the former colonial power Portugal as the administering authority.
Indonesia is currently discussing with Portugal ways to resolve the problem in talks held under the auspices of the United Nations.