Subject: SMH: TNI 'powerless to disarm militias'

Sydney Morning Herald August 17, 2000

TNI 'powerless to disarm militias'

By MARK DODD, Herald Correspondent in Suai

The Indonesian military (TNI) is incapable of putting down the militia threat in West Timor because it is outnumbered and lacks the expertise and resources, according to a senior UN military commander.

"I think TNI is between a rock and a hard place," said Lieutenant-Colonel Martin Dransfield, commander of the New Zealand battalion in East Timor.

"If they are too heavy handed, possibly they will find themselves in the same position they got into 12 months ago when they lost control.

"I legitimately believe they are struggling, and this is a time we have to work with them, which is what we are doing.

"Although this is not politically acceptable, this is a time when we have to support them rather than go to the other extreme where they are ostracised."

It is still believed, however, that rogue elements of the TNI continue to assist in unlawful militia activity in East Timor.

Colonel Dransfield offered up two scenarios yesterday. The first was that pro-Indonesian militia were seeking to infiltrate armed agents as "sleepers" who would wage a war for autonomy after UN peacekeepers had left.

The other scenario was that the militia wanted to engage UN troops, forcing countries to determine that the Timor mission was too dangerous.

"They are obviously going to lose that campaign because there is a definite determination on the part of contributing nations ... that we are going to see this one through," he said.

The two recent attacks in the New Zealand sector resulting in New Zealand and Nepalese fatalities were chance rather than premeditated clashes, he said.

Colonel Dransfield said the two battalions of Indonesian troops based along the border in West Timor were incapable of disarming pro-Indonesian militias.

"It's very difficult. The refugee camps are enormous. The reports we are getting at the moment is there is a lot of trouble and the TNI are effectively outnumbered. It is not a particularly rosy picture."

Colonel Dransfield told reporters that latest intelligence estimates on the numbers of armed militia in East Timor could be as high as 150, split into small groups.

The UN's Deputy Commander in East Timor, Major-General Mike Smith, supported Colonel Dransfield's comments, saying he had no reason to doubt the sincerity of Major-General Kiki Syahanakri, the commander of Indonesia's eastern region.

The Indonesian side was providing a regular flow of information on suspected or planned movements across the border by armed militia, he said.

More than 100,000 East Timorese refugees live in some 200 camps across West Timor with estimates of the number of those who opposed independence as high as 50 per cent.

Meanwhile, Portuguese security forces guarding Dili remain on high alert for possible militia infiltrators, with several key anniversaries this month and next month.

Security concerns have also forced UN officials to suspend work on a second road repair project in south-central Ainaro district.

UN officials said worries over the safety of East Timorese workers and foreign contractors were the reason for suspending work on the $1.5 million project.

In the latest incident, pro-Indonesian militia are suspected of burning down a house at Hatu Hudo, south-west of Same.

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